Dogs can be a kiwi's biggest threat - with canines the biggest killer of the country's national icon - but in Northland dogs are being used to monitor the birds and track down predators.

Department of Conservation kiwi ranger James McLaughlin has two conservation dogs, Tui and Jock, who are a vital tool for the annual kiwi counts at the Waipoua Kiwi Sanctuary Area and Trounson Kauri Park Predator Control Area on the Kauri Coast.

"The dogs track the kiwis for our mark and recapture survey, which measures increases or decreases in the population. The surveys reveal valuable information - we now know that while kiwi populations are stable and increasing significantly in the sanctuary and predator-controlled areas, they are in serious decline outside."

Conservation contractor and Kaitiaki Kiwi member Tom Donovan's 3-year-old conservation dog Leroy recently helped to find a kiwi chick in Trounson Kauri Park.


"The chick lost its transmitter so Leroy was called in to help. Without Leroy, tracking the kiwi would have been an impossible task, but he found it within 90 minutes," he said.

Leroy was bred by Kerikeri resident Jim Broadbent, who has spent four decades breeding hundreds of hunting dogs.

Kerikeri dog breeder Jim Broadbent with a litter of German shorthaired pointers, four of which have been selected to work as conservation dogs.
Kerikeri dog breeder Jim Broadbent with a litter of German shorthaired pointers, four of which have been selected to work as conservation dogs.

Four of his German shorthaired pointers have been selected to work as conservation dogs in both protection and predator control.

"I'm incredibly proud that they are being used in conservation work. They are such intelligent dogs and they are among the top 10 breeds in the world for their sense of smell - they can be trained to detect anything," Mr Broadbent said.

He has a two-year waiting list for his dogs and 'field tests' them as puppies and watches how they react to scents. Those deemed most suitable for conservation work then undergo 18 months of daily training to prepare them for the role.

He said the dogs must be certified, and testing is rigorous.

"Conservation dogs must be under control, safe to birds and uninterested in other species except those they're trained for. Ensuring they're only interested in their target species is the hardest part of the training. Gun dogs have been bred to find rabbits and pheasants, which are like cocaine to a dog's nose. Once they have had an exciting find on a rabbit or pheasant, it's very hard to train them off them - but it can be done," he said.

Another of Mr Broadbent's dogs, Leroy's litter-mate Milo, is a conservation predator dog. She is trained to pick up the scent of feral cats, which are then killed by professional trappers. Milo has her own Facebook page for fans to follow her adventures and her skills are in hot demand.

Owner Brad Windust, founder of Bay Bush Action, takes her out for training for three hours every day.

"She's amazing; she'll pick up a scent even when it's buried under the ground. It's incredible to go out to the islands and see the abundant wildlife and to know that Milo is doing her bit to protect this taonga."

There are 80 conservation dogs in New Zealand. Fifty-five have been trained to locate protected species, such as kiwi, kakapo, whio, pateke, and takahe. The other 25 have been trained to find pests. New Zealand was the first country to use dogs to benefit conservation and kiwi conservation dogs have a reputation for being among the best in the world. They have been sent to Australia to help track feral cats and rodents and to Japan to find mongooses.