Eleven kiwi chicks have been found dead in a "kiwi creche" facility near Karapiro. Department of Conservation staff conducting a routine visit to undertake transmitter replacements discovered the dead birds yesterday [23 March], with early indications suggesting a predator attack.
Two remaining kiwi in the reserve have been rescued and transferred to safe haven at Rainbow Springs, in Rotorua.
Waikato Conservator Greg Martin said the fenced reserve has been free of threats to kiwi for several years and had provided a nursery for kiwi chicks, allowing them to reach a kilogram in weight, at which size they are generally able to fend for themselves in the wild.
“About 65 kiwi chicks have been successfully raised in the specially fenced reserve since 2002 and transferred back to their home forests. Smaller birds are most vulnerable to attack and at least three of the dead chicks displayed bite marks consistent with an attack by a wild cat or possibly a large ferret," Greg Martin said.
"The dead birds are all on their way to Massey University for post-mortem examination which will hopefully provide definite answers as to cause of death. The department will be undertaking a full and urgent investigation to answer all the how, why and when questions. It is a tragic loss of 11 precious kiwi chicks and devastating news for the department staff directly involved in the kiwi recovery programme."
All 11 dead kiwi were brought to the reserve from Tongariro Forest with the blessing of Ngati Hikairo and Tuwharetoa Iwi. Iwi spokesperson Bubs Smith said the cultural impact of losing such a large number of our taonga (treasures) is devastating and the set back will be felt in Tongariro Forest for a number of years to come.
"The alternative of trying to raise kiwi chicks in the wild is very minimal with only a 5% success rate. I believe the reserve is an integral part of the enhancement of kiwi numbers in Tongariro Forest," he said.