October is Save Kiwi Month, and at Cape Sanctuary a concerted effort to populate the wildlife reserve with kiwi, as well as other species of birds, reptiles and invertebrates is contributing significantly to the preservation of our national bird.
Earlier this month the Department of Conservation launched its Kiwi Recovery Plan 2017-2027, aiming to reverse the annual 2 per cent loss of kiwi to a 2 per cent annual increase and rebuild the population to more than 100,000 by 2030.
This week, four kiwi chicks were relocated from Rotorua to Cape Sanctuary, where the first kiwi were released in 2008. It now boasts a population of 100 to 120 North Island brown kiwi.
Cape Sanctuary manager Tamsin Ward-Smith said those early arrivals have moved out into every habitat including the Cape Kidnappers golf course bunkers and dunes at Ocean Beach.
"Kiwi juvenile survival at the sanctuary has been more than 85 per cent compared to the dismal 5 per cent in forests where there is no pest control," Ms Ward-Smith said.
Most of the kiwi at Cape Sanctuary have come from Maungataniwha Forest, a large block of mature native forest owned by Simon Hall of the Forest Life Force Restoration Trust. Eggs are removed from wild nests and the incubation completed at Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua. "Young chicks then travel to Cape Sanctuary where they grow from tiny 350g 3-week-olds to feisty streetwise juveniles weighing more than 850g.
"After around five months the youngsters can be released back to the wild and are better able to defend themselves from stoats - we call this creching and it happens with about 40 chicks every year."
Ms Ward-Smith said volunteers were crucial to the project's success, equal to two to three fulltime workers.
"We just couldn't do what we do without them, particularly the contribution toward pest control - filling rat bait stations and clearing traps. Getting just one chick from an egg to a young juvenile that can go back to the wild involves so many people and we are very privileged to be part of it." As well as the North Island brown kiwi, the southern end of the sanctuary is home to 30 little spotted kiwi, she said.
"Cape Sanctuary is certainly part of the bigger picture for national kiwi recovery, and it may one day be home to more than 200 pairs, a significant secure population in its own right." Cape Sanctuary owner Andy Lowe said the growth in kiwi numbers, as well as successful survival of other native endangered species, was always part of the strategy, despite being told the birds would not do well in the conditions.
"At the start it was said that it was too dry and there was not enough bush cover for them but with the vermin under control it works, and they have two and a half thousand hectares to roam. "It fits with the strategy we came up with 50 years ago to create a sustainable model where an economic farming unit with humans producing food could co-exist with endangered species.
"We have got to learn to live together."
- Cape Sanctuary is the largest privately owned and funded wildlife restoration project of its kind in New Zealand. The sanctuary is situated on three properties on the Cape Kidnappers peninsula; Cape Kidnappers Station owned by Julian Robertson, part of Haupouri Station owned by the Hansen family and Ocean Beach Wilderness Property owned by Andy and Liz Lowe. In 2007, a predator-proof fence stretching 10.6km across the neck of the peninsula from coast to coast was completed preventing predators reinvading the 2500-hectare headland.
-Today, only an estimated 68,000 kiwi remain where there were once millions; researchers estimate that the population stood at about 100,000 several decades ago when it became apparent the bird was on a fast-track to extinction.
Some species remain more threatened than others, but emergency conservation efforts have helped pull the most endangered - including rowi and Haast tokoeka, now both numbering in their hundreds - back from the brink.
By 2030, DOC wants species populations rebuilt to 35,400 brown kiwi, 35,000 tokoeka, 2900 little spotted kiwi, 19,900 great spotted kiwi and 900 rowi.
The cost of the work, estimated at a further $1.6 million than what's currently spent annually, would be mostly met by an $11.2m bag of rescue money included in last year's Budget, with an annual shortfall of $1.3m raised primarily by national charity Kiwis for Kiwi.