Updated: Dec 8, 2022
The West Coast of the South Island is home to the Apteryx rowi - Okarito Brown kiwi – the rarest of the five kiwi species. It was only identified as a distinct kiwi species in 2003. Before then, it was thought to be a variety of brown kiwi. As with other kiwi species, rowi generally mate for life, unless one bird dies. If this happens, the survivor will pair up with another kiwi. They only lay 1-2 eggs per year.
The rowi have reduced to just one natural population – 11,000 hectares of dense lowland forest (podocarp/broadleaf) between Okarito and the Waiho River in Tai Poutini National Park - due to predation from introduced species such as stoats, as well as habitat loss.
DOC’s focus is to secure the species from extinction. Its efforts have seen the population increase from a record low of about 150-200 birds in the mid-1990s, mainly due to the success of Operation Nest Egg (ONE). DOC’s ONE project is a nationwide kiwi recovery tool established in 1995 by the Department of Conservation, BNZ & Save the Kiwi. A ONE kiwi chick has a 65% chance of surviving to adulthood – compared to just 5% for wild-hatched and raised chicks.
This program is a huge operation that involves catching & adding small transmitters to the male kiwi, who take turns with the female to sit on the egg, then the DOC staff monitors it until a specific size and then removes & carefully transports the egg to either Willow Bank Nature reserve in Christchurch or at our local West Coast Wildlife Centre here in Franz Josef NZ.
From there the chicks are hatched in incubators, and when big enough, kept in enclosures. They are then transported to the predator-free Motuara island in the Marlborough Sounds where they can live until they are about a 1-year-old (or about 1 – 1.2 kgs) when they are big & strong enough to fend off & run from (kiwi are excellent runners!) stoats & other predators.
They can then be returned back to their origins in the Okarito sanctuary. Quite a big journey for a little kiwi!
Kiwi are very territorial, so with all the new kiwi saved & re-released, they were running out of space in the Okarito Sanctuary.
With help from our Project Early Bird - Glacier Valley Eco Tours community trapping program (supported by the DOC Community fund & Matheson Café) – DOC released the rowi kiwi into the Omoeroa forest by Lake Matheson & Lake Gault in Fox Glacier, not far from Okarito, in December 2018. There has now been 106 rowi kiwi released in this area.
‘Sky Ranger’, is a new system of collecting the data from the kiwi’s transmitters from a fixed-wing plane by local pilot Blair Hoult (Knights Point Air) that flies in grid-like patterns over the forest in a few hours. This used to take the rangers well over a month to collect on the ground.
The work that ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators) is currently doing for Predator Free South Westland is huge - it means that ONE is no longer needed on such a huge scale, and many kiwi chicks are now being left in the forest naturally.
Approx 600 pairs (1200 rowi) live in the wild in the Okarito & Fox Glacier forests of Tai Poutini National Park today. They have also dropped down the threatened species ranking to – ‘Nationally Endangered’.
Because of this DOC & ZIP work, as well as our own trapping program, then we are very excited about our future tours guiding in these areas and hope to hear rowi kiwi on our sunset Okarito, Lake Matheson, & Lake Gault tours.
Aroha’s rescue – a great story of a kiwi who went wandering into the mountains.
West Coast Wildlife Centre https://www.wildkiwi.co.nz
Knights Point Air https://knightspointair.co.nz
Department of Conservation https://www.doc.govt.nz/
Save the Kiwi https://savethekiwi.nz/about-kiwi/kiwi-species/rowi/
Zero Invasive Predators https://zip.org.nz/
Predator Free South Westland https://predatorfreesouthwestland.nz/
Predator free 2050 https://pf2050.co.nz/