Twenty of the world's rarest kiwi species, the rowi, are about to return to the North Island for the first time in hundreds of years.
The young kiwi will be helicoptered to Mana Island near Wellington tomorrow to establish a new colony in the hope of improving the breeding prospects for the species.
The Department of Conservation removed the 20 rowi eggs during spring 2010 from the Okarito forest in South Westland to protect them from predators as part of Operation Nest Egg.
After they hatched that summer at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, the chicks were raised to maturity on predator-free Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds.
The rowi, now 18 months old, will be transferred to their new home on Mana Island courtesy of the Air Force, after pausing briefly at the Ngati Toa Domain in Paremata.
By sending a juvenile population north to predator-free Mana Island, rowi will be able to breed with less human interference.
The absence of predator pressure, better breeding conditions and less competition for territories will ensure that the Mana Island rowi produce a high number of chicks that can eventually become part of the home population in Okarito.
DOC has so far managed to boost dwindling populations of rowi from below 200 to nearly 400.