Its aim is to make sure the area’s wild kiwi population survives in the long term, which can mean taking a broad focus on wider environmental issues if this helps improve kiwi habitat. To that end, along with its core work of co-ordinating predator control, the group runs campaigns to encourage people not to dump rubbish, garden waste and unwanted pets (especially cats) along roadsides.
Since 2000, the group has looked after the Whenuakite Kiwi Recovery Area, a patch of regenerating coastal broadleaf and kauri forest lying between Tairua and Hot Water Beach on the peninsula’s eastern side. Before 2000, surveys showed kiwi numbers were plummeting due to predation on both chicks and adult kiwi.
Whenuakite Kiwi Care Group’s members reflect a vibrant partnership between local landowners and residents, and staff at the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Waikato Regional Council. Their collective skills range from predator and pest control and kiwi call monitoring, to public speaking, fundraising and writing management plans.
Key supporters are landowners who welcome the kiwi group onto their lands, or do the predator control themselves.
The Whenuakite Kiwi Care Group recognises that saving kiwi is a long term business, and is blessed with a number of sponsors and supporters, including Kiwis for kiwi, DOC, the Waikato Regional Council, Forest and Bird, the Thames-Coromandel District Council, WWF-New Zealand, the Lotteries Commission, the E.B. Firth Charitable Trust, New Zealand Post, Little Brown Kiwi and Jamie Orchard.
Size of area under protection
The kiwi care group looks after about 4000 hectares of regenerating coastal forest covering both Crown-owned and private land, and known collectively as the Whenuakite Kiwi Recovery Area. Signs and information panels make sure everyone knows that kiwi are there, and the role they can play to help keep them safe.
The biggest challenge for the group is that its work must be forever, says member Arthur Hinds. As long as there are stoats, ferrets, dogs, cats and human disturbance, Coromandel brown kiwi will be threatened. And for other species within the kiwi’s habitat to also thrive, the group also needs to control the numbers of possums, rats, weasels, hedgehogs, pigs and weed plants.
A 2005 survey showed the group’s predator control work had helped kiwi numbers more than double in four years. It found that 68 adult kiwi were identified by a kiwi call survey, up from 29 in 2001, and there were unknown numbers of juvenile Coromandel brown kiwi as well. A further survey in 2010 identified 98 kiwi, with an estimated population of 75 pairs.
Building on these successes helps keep people motivated and the tally of pests caught is growing—with 460 traps spread over 52 kilometres of trap line, 1215 stoats, 138 weasels, 11 ferrets and 261 feral cats have been removed from the area since 2001.
In 2006, 2009 and 2011, 1080 was applied aerially to 1200 hectares, targeting rats and possums. The excellent results have allowed the forest to recover and the smaller bird species to have at least one relatively predator-free nesting. Combined with year-round trapping, the result is an annual increase in kiwi numbers higher than anywhere else in New Zealand.
Another of the Whenuakite Kiwi Care Group’s biggest successes is how it has brought people together to look after and enjoy a special area. Locals report seeing more tui, kereru and kaka, and fewer pests and predators, and love hearing the kiwi call. Many people now realise that without the group’s work, local kiwi are doomed to disappear.
The one most important thing
The Whenuakite group sees more than one thing as important to a project’s success, especially as saving kiwi is a ‘forever’ business.
Key factors are:
- Support from Kiwis for kiwi, DOC, the Waikato regional council and the local community, and keeping people informed about what is happening through regular meetings and newsletters.
- Keeping group dynamics healthy, and making sure tasks are delegated and the workload shared.
- Establishing baseline data as a yardstick against which to measure progress.
- Sharing expertise with other projects in the local area and nationally.
- And perhaps the most important – celebrating successes.