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200th kiwi chick released in Hawke's Bay forest

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An emotional surprise Kiwi family reunion marked the return last week of a very special kiwi chick to the inland Hawke’s Bay forest from where its egg was taken. The 200th kiwi chick reared by the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust and its conservation partners was returned to the bush by Aucklander Lynda Holswich who was reunited with her own ‘fledgling’ at the event.

Her son Aaron was flown home secretly from Australia to be with his mother for the release.

The male bird, named Tanekaha (Strong Man), was incubated at Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua and reared in a predator-free area at the Cape Sanctuary south of Napier.

To mark the occasion the Trust’s primary sponsor, Auckland-based Tasti Products, ran a Facebook competition asking followers with children overseas to suggest names for the bird in honour of their offshore offspring.

Ms Holswich said she involved a close colleague, with recently-diagnosed Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to help with the naming of the kiwi and decided on the name Tanekaha, which could also be applied to her sons.

Tasti secretly got in touch with Aaron and arranged to fly him home to be reunited with his mother at the Trust’s property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest in Hawke’s Bay. Ms Holswich said the reunion was emotional.

"The last thing I expected was to see my son when the helicopter landed at Maungataniwha - I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or run away," she said. "It turned a special event into something absolutely amazing and meaningful for me. It’s a day Aaron and I will remember for the rest of our lives."

Chairman of the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust Simon Hall said there had been an obvious connection between Ms Holswich and the kiwi.

"He was calm and still with her and in no hurry to burrow into the nest we had prepared for him."

The Maungataniwha Kiwi Project is part of Kiwi for kiwis’ Operation Nest Egg and is fast carving out a name for itself as one of the most prolific and successful kiwi conservation initiatives in the country. Since its inception in 2006 it has harvested about 360 eggs and seen 200 chicks released back into the wild, about 160 of which have been released back into the Maungataniwha Native Forest. Fully-fledged chicks released back into the forest as part of the project have an approximately 70 percent chance of survival. This survival rate contrasts starkly with the five percent chance that kiwi have of making it to adulthood if hatched in the bush and left unprotected against predators.

Population modelling suggests around 200 kiwi needed to be released back into Maungataniwha to make the population there secure for the next 30 years.

"It’s wonderful to be making big strides towards this milestone. We’re absolutely delighted with the project’s success to date and plan to keep on going," Mr Hall said.

Eggs are taken from the Trust’s property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest adjacent to Te Urewera National Park and sent to Kiwi Encounter for incubation. The resulting chicks are then reared at the Cape Sanctuary until they are large enough to defend themselves against predators, before being returned to the wild at Maungataniwha.

In February 2012 Trust patron Rachel Hunter released Takamoana, the 100th chick reared by the project. In addition to the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project the Trust runs a series of native flora and fauna regeneration projects. These include a drive to increase the wild-grown population of Kakabeak (Clianthus maximus), an extremely rare type of shrub, and the re-establishment of native plants and forest on 4,000 hectares currently, or until recently, under pine.

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