Every summer visitors flood to Matapouri Bay and environs on the Tutukaka Coast, many bringing their beloved family pooches with them.

If only they would obey the rules and stop letting those dogs bound about all over the place.

A volunteer landcare worker at Otito Point which wraps around the sublimely beautiful Whale Bay recently had to ask a woman to take her three pooches out of the reserve.
There is a very clear sign at the start of the track informing people dogs are not allowed there, even on a lead.

"Amazingly, people walk right past it with their dogs in tow," says Jared Plows, from the Matapouri Kaitiaki Project.

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The woman was not happy, telling Plows — sharply — she was allowed to take her dogs anywhere she liked in Auckland, at any time.

That's quite unlikely in Auckland or anywhere else in New Zealand, but it's not the point, he says.

The point is, dogs kill kiwi. And it's a message proving really hard to get across to the "not my dog!" owners of even the cutest, most domesticated, best mannered pooches.
Dogs are, in fact, the biggest killer of kiwi.

"The big push we're trying to get across to the public just before thousands of people head up this way is about the whole dog thing," Plows says.

The chain made from leg bands taken off dead kiwi in Northland; most were killed by dogs.
The chain made from leg bands taken off dead kiwi in Northland; most were killed by dogs.

It's a common cause most landowners have long taken on board the length of a 200km-plus "kiwi corridor".

The smaller Matapouri Kaitiaki Project is affiliated to the Tutukaka Landcare Coalition, which like over 90 communities, iwi, public and private landowners from Whangarei Heads to the Far North, are soon-to-be or already pest-controlled links in the Kiwi Coast chain.

Chain of destruction
Plows pulls out a chain of a different kind — and it's absolutely chilling.

It's a necklace of leg bands, each band taken from the carcass of a dead kiwi. The grim chain is owned by the Department of Conservation, the ID bands holding information about each dead bird: gender and age; where and when it was released; or whether caught and banded in the bush, etc.

There are about 130 bands in the chain and Plows stresses they "represent just a few", only those that have been found. The great majority signify kiwi that were killed by dogs, but quite a few were run over by vehicles hitting the nocturnal bird on dark roads.

Kiwi move long distances looking for a mate or a territory to call their own, and they're often, well, sitting ducks on rural roads. A Kerikeri peninsular said not very long ago that it's more common to see kiwi than possum roadkill up his way.

But back to Otito. Kiwi are thriving in the native and exotic forests, wetlands, scrub, pasture and regenerating bush rolling inland from Matapouri Bay.

To add to the growing population, a month ago three breeding-age females from the Matakohe-Limestone Island kiwi creche were released a couple of kilometres south of the Otito Reserve. The females are expected to pair up with three young male birds from a previous release in the area, or maybe wander further away into new grounds.

"Who's to say one hasn't crossed the road into the Whale Bay Otito Reserve?" Plows says. "For all we know there could be one in here, and some dog comes along ... "

DoC will also be sending a loud message to visitors over the summer, a spokeswoman said.

"Kiwi are New Zealand's unique taonga, but they are under threat. In Northland most kiwi deaths are caused by dogs not under control. Kiwi can live just about anywhere, even in people's backyards and under houses so, when away from home, please remember that you and your dog may be holidaying in a kiwi area."

DoC says four simple things people can do to help protect kiwi are: remember that any dog, including pets, can kill kiwi; keep dog indoors or secured at night; when out of doors, keep the dog under control, preferably on a lead at all times; if a track sign says "No dogs", walk the dog somewhere else.

And, DoC says, if you see a dog not under control, ring the local council dog ranger.
In Whangarei district, that's Armourguard.

Duty of care
Plows and his partner Kayla Raines are passionate conservationists.

They stress they are only two in a large group working for the same outcome.

The couple met when they were both in the army, and settled on the Whangarei coast near where Plows grew up. Raines, originally from Whanganui, is now studying environmental sciences at NorthTec while Plows is a volunteer ranger of local landcare groups and a pig hunter.

"I don't hate dogs, I have my own, but I know they won't go for kiwi," he says.

His pig dogs are kiwi-aversion trained, as any rural, farm or town dog can be. It is dog training highly recommended by DoC and other conservation groups.

Plows and Raines are volunteers with various projects. At Otito their work includes trapping for rats, possum and mustelids, clearing weeds, identifying plants, recording wildlife, picking up rubbish (recently they and other volunteers collected 12 bags, a ute-load, of rubbish from the area).

In 114 days, Plows removed over 600 pests.

Raines describes the work as habitat restoration, the ultimate aim of which is to restore the biodiversity.

"It's not just about kiwi, important as they are," she says.

Saddlebacks, kaka, grey faced petrel, bellbirds, a shag colony on Otito Point which, apart from the shags, return, or are even sighted occasionally, bode well for the future. Raines says the area also has significant flora diversity, with some rare species.

"We've got a duty of care, all of us, to protect our environment and wildlife. It's going to take much more than our small landcare groups."

Otito and similar reserves fall under the (not always defined) responsibility of Whangarei District and Northland Regional councils, DoC and local iwi. They are usually saved from environmental degradation by local communities.

"I can't speak highly enough of our community," Plows says. "The community empowers us. We wouldn't, couldn't, be here without that support."

So, could visitors from outside the community do their bit, please?

Raines points out there are plenty of nearby beaches people can take their dogs to at certain times of the day.

Yes, the message to visitors is respectfully given, and part of a deeper, longer, national conversation.

"But being a responsible dog owner means finding out where your dog is allowed. Ignorance isn't a defence."

Smell like dog tucker
Kiwi, more than many ground-dwelling birds, are instinctively irresistible to dogs. Kiwi smell really strong — earthy, musty, meaty, over-ripe, a leggy body bag of pungency.

They can run but their loping gait even provides an attraction for dogs. The silly mutts just chase that pong on long legs.

But the poor kiwi's weakest link is a breast that doesn't have the stronger bone structure and muscularity of a winged bird. That vulnerable area can easily get crushed in a dog's jaws, even without much pressure being applied.

Of course at this stage, many pet dogs might still think they're playing with a stinky feathered ball. Very few kiwi are eaten by their canine killers, unless they are dogs running wild or lost. But unless dogs have kiwi-aversion training, their instincts are to chase and catch, and, for many, to kill.