Ground-Breaking Fertility Programme For Kiwi   30 Jun 2010

KIWI: Ground-Breaking Fertility Programme Launched To Save World’s Most Endangered Kiwi

Three pairs of the world’s rarest kiwi – the rowi – have been relocated to Marlborough Sounds’ Blumine Island in an effort to encourage breeding.

This is the first time kiwi pairs have been taken out of their natural environment in order to stimulate fertility and conservation groups are hoping that a change of scenery might just be the missing ingredient.

They were released onto the island by Minister of Conservation, Hon. Kate Wilkinson yesterday. Department of Conservation (DOC) Rowi Team Leader, Duncan Kay says the future of this kiwi species could rest on the fertility of these birds.

“We’re hoping that the warmer climate and food-rich soils of Blumine Island will contribute to breeding success for these birds. Unlike their mainland home, Blumine is predator-free. Birds will not only be safe from the jaws of stoats, cats and dogs but will also benefit from not having to compete with pest species – such as rats, possums and hedgehogs – for food.”

These pairs, some of whom have been with their partners for many years, have so far been unsuccessful when it comes to reproducing.

”We estimate approximately one third of the rowi population is currently unproductive,” says Duncan.

It’s pretty puzzling. Transferring these three pairs is a groundbreaking project; it could give us some much-needed answers.”

Rowi - which are critically endangered with a population of just 350 – are currently only found in Ökärito Kiwi Zone on the South Island’s West Coast. They were once abundant and widespread over much of the West Coast and south East Coast of North Island.

Funding for the Blumine Island rowi transfer project has come from the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, without which, says Duncan, the project would not have taken on its current scope.

Michelle Impey, executive director for BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust says it is tremendous to see donations from BNZ customers and the general public used in such a direct way, for such an urgent project. “Rowi need help now. To have assisted such a groundbreaking project is what our work is all about.”

Duncan adds that the move from Ökärito to the Marlborough Sounds may shake things up a little for the old pairs.

“Although rowi often mate for life, as with us humans, there is also the possibility of affairs and divorces!

“Many of these new pairings may well enable birds to produce fertile eggs for the first time.”

The rowi population is currently being assisted with conservation tool, BNZ Operation Nest Egg. This is where wild kiwi eggs are collected then incubated, hatched and reared in captivity. When about four weeks old, chicks are sent to a safe crèche – either a predator-free island or mainland sanctuary – until they reach around one kilogram. Only then are they returned to their wild home. BNZ Operation Nest Egg increases by at least seven times the chance of a kiwi making it to adulthood.

The transfer to Blumine Island is part of the National Kiwi Recovery Plan to increase the population of rowi to 600 by 2018.

Blumine Island is a scenic reserve that is open to visitors all year round. At just over 400 hectares, it is the largest Marlborough Sounds island reserve, situated in outer Queen Charlotte Sound, about an hour’s boat ride from Picton.

Part of the island was extensively cleared for agriculture in the past but now is clothed in regenerating native forest. A 2005 DOC rodent eradication operation and stoat trapping cleared the island of introduced predators paving the way for the restoration of the island’s wildlife. Students are involved in monitoring the island’s ecological restoration through educational programmes supported by Untouched World Charitable Trust and the Canterbury University College of Education.

Untouched World Charitable Trust’s programmes has seen more than 320 senior secondary school students from Marlborough and Canterbury together with approximately 50 teachers participate in supporting the conservation efforts in 20 week-long visits to Blumine Island (100 days of work), since 2002. Peri Drysdale, Chair of the Untouched World Charitable Trust says “The release of Kiwi on Blumine Island is a fantastic result for all the secondary school students and teachers who have worked hard to achieve this outcome. The release also demonstrates the effectiveness of strong working partnerships across sectors.” 2010 is designated the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations. A time to take stock on the effect of humanity on the diversity of life on earth.

For regular Blumine Island updates and for further information on rowi visit www.savethekiwi.org or www.doc.govt.nz/rowi

Source:  Dept of Conservation

ENDS

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