Kiwi conservation project is using dogs to help protect our national bird.

Dogs and our iconic national bird the kiwi don't usually mix - but now that is changing.
Despite dogs being a significant threat to the kiwi population - in some areas they are the number one cause of death for the flightless bird - they are playing a crucial role in their conservation.

Kiwis for Kiwi, a national charity supporting community-led kiwi conservation projects, is enlisting man's best friend to help save the bird.

The charity has partnered with dog-food manufacturers the Real Pet Food Company through its Natures Goodness brand, to engage with and educate owners about the risks their pets pose - and how to reduce them.

COO of Kiwis for Kiwi Ross Halpin says trained dogs are being used to help locate male kiwi sitting on nests - part of an exercise known as Operation Nest Egg. The eggs are taken to hatch in a safe environment, such as a zoo or sanctuary, and the young birds raised to a good weight before being released into the wild.

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"The chances of survival for a bird go from five to 65 per cent by taking the egg, incubating it and rearing the chick; dogs play a really important part in that process," says Halpin.

Because kiwi are flightless they also have no sternum or breastbone, which makes them particularly susceptible to being crushed in a dog's jaws.

"People just don't realise that their cute little fox terrier or whatever it is can actually cause incredible damage," he says. "We recently had a sad example on Kawau Island, where a dog killed a number of kiwi in a very short space of time.

"The relationship with the Real Pet Food Company means we can educate dog owners about the threat their pet poses to kiwi, and we hope in coming years to develop a number of tools to help us educate dog owners and train dogs."

'Kiwi aversion' programmes, where dogs are trained through negative reinforcement to not chase the birds, have proved to be successful, and courses are running throughout the country.

"In an ideal world dogs wouldn't roam in areas where there are kiwi, but if they are, it makes a big difference if they have been given aversion training," says Halpin.

Natures Goodness and Kiwis for Kiwi will share a stand at the Auckland Pet Expo on September 30-October 1; and the company will support Kiwis for Kiwi in its Save Kiwi Month in October.

A range of activities are planned around the country - with many schools getting behind the fundraising drive - and will culminate in the Great Kiwi Morning Tea on Friday, October 27. Kiwi ex-pats can get in on the action too, with Nelson cidermaker Old Mout promoting the event in the UK and raising funds for the charity.

Long-term supporter TradeMe, with its kiwi symbol 'Kevin', is also getting on board, sponsoring a chick and following its progress after hatching this summer.

"We just want to involve as many people as we can to put the spotlight on kiwi conservation," says Halpin. "It would be quite easy for the Real Pet Food Company to look the other way so it's great to see them proactively stepping forward to help us with this challenge."

Dave Allan, general manager of Real Pet Foods' New Zealand operation, says he has long wanted to work with Kiwis for Kiwi, and sees a real synergy between the two operations.
"I've always felt this was a good fit. The relationship between dogs and kiwis has always been a problem, and if we are able to use our connection with dog owners to educate them about how they can make sure their dog is not part of that problem, then that's a huge positive.

"Ultimately, it would be great if my grandkids can still see kiwi running around the bush in the future."