A surge in Northland kiwi is giving new hope to the survival of our national icon.
Long-term breeding projects have led to the region’s population increasing by 1000 per cent in 15 years.
In Whangarei Heads alone, the numbers have risen from 80 to 880 in that time.
Just north of Whangarei, around 100 members of the Pataua community turned out on Saturday afternoon to get a rare, close-up look at the treasured species.
Many of the children who came along were lost for words at seeing kiwi in the flesh for the first time.
"It looked really cute," one boy said. While another described them as "really fluffy.. and I wanted to pat them [but the handler] said no."
The two birds remained calm while out in the glaring sunlight for about twenty minutes, despite the noisy, excited chatter around them.
An auction was earlier held for the naming rights of ten kiwi – six female and four male – with the proceeds going to monitoring and tracking equipment. The birds were rounded up on Friday night on Moturoa island in the Hauraki Gulf. The purpose of bringing the kiwi over is to release and ultimately breed kiwi, within the community-built, predator-free zones.
Kiwi Coast Northland Project co-ordinator, Ngaire Sullivan, said there’s currently around 150,000 hectares of land across the region where owners are taking it upon themselves to actively monitor for pests.
"There's no predator proof fences, there's no zoos, these kiwi are free to roam and they should be able to thrive," she said.
Shortly before dusk, a convoy of cars, one carrying the ten kiwi, headed to a nearby private property, where, two birds at a time, they were carefully carried into the bush and placed into pre-pared burrows.
John Craig, of Pataua North Landcare, told 1News it had been a very dry Autumn so they’d chosen sites where there was a lot of damp ground.
"And places where we know breeding kiwi aren't currently existing," he said.
He said 19 properties made up the 800-hectare site that the kiwi now had to explore.