Zoo Miami has cancelled its paid encounters with Paora the kiwi after videos of the bird being paraded in daylight for selfies sparked outrage. Where else has our national bird been housed overseas?
How did Paora get to Miami in the first place?
Paora – named after iwi leader Paora Haitana – was hatched at the Florida zoo in 2019, after its egg was loaned to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park as part of an arrangement with the Government.
The zoo said Paora was normally kept out of public view in a quiet area with a special shelter, enabling the nocturnal bird to live in relative darkness during the day.
Plans were underway to build a habitat that would continue to provide him with the “shelter that he needs while respecting and supporting his natural instincts”.
“It will be developed in such a way that we can teach our guests about the amazing kiwi without any direct contact from the public.”
The zoo said it regretted the “unintentional stress” caused by Paora being petted in bright light and had cancelled a $40-a-ticket encounter with the public.
How have agencies and groups responded?
DOC has said it’s already raised concerns over the footage.
The Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA) told the Herald it did not comment on other zoos, but was working with DOC and the US-based Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) on the issue.
Forest & Bird and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage referred Herald questions to DOC.
An Auckland Zoo spokesperson said that, without knowing more about the day-to-day care and husbandry plan for the bird, it was difficult to comment.
“What we would say is that, with all the Department of Conservation kiwi-handling accreditations and approved protocols in place, it is possible to do short encounters with kiwi without stressing the individual animal – that build empathy and appreciation for a precious taonga like this.”
At its own nocturnal kiwi habitat, Auckland Zoo used a reverse light cycle that enabled visitors to see kiwi active and displaying natural behaviours as they would be in the wild.
“They can also choose to retreat to a nest box. Day and night lengths are adjusted seasonally to reflect how it would be in wild here in Aotearoa.”
Michelle Impey, of national charity Save the Kiwi, said the treatment of Paora captured on camera was “concerning”.
“In the video, Paora was essentially subjected to every condition that goes against a kiwi’s natural instinct – out during the day in bright artificial light, being touched and patted, subjected to loud noises and not allowed to safely take cover in its enclosure,” she said.
“This would have been stressful for the animal, especially with repeated exposures on a daily or weekly basis.”
In New Zealand, there were strict regulations around how to hold a kiwi, who was allowed to, and how other people could interact with a kiwi, she said.
“Kiwi handlers must pass strict certification, and continue to be assessed, to become approved handlers.
“Because this particular kiwi was hatched on US soil it falls under a different jurisdiction, but we would hope that our best-practice standards would be used to influence international standards too.”
Impey pointed out that kiwi were revered in Māoridom.
“They are a sacred part of Māori identity and of course a national symbol for our country.
“As such, kiwi are entitled to a respectful way of living when they are in captivity.
“Save the Kiwi is very pleased to hear of Miami Zoo’s apology and swift action to rectify the situation.
“We trust their apology is sincere and that they will do everything they can to improve Paora’s way of life.”
Where else are kiwi found overseas?
It might come as a surprise that about 60 kiwi live overseas, where they’ve been bred and hatched at various zoos and institutions for decades.
Hilary Aikman, DOC’s terrestrial biodiversity director, said all of these foreign kiwi had been “gifted” to zoos - as some kea and tuatara also had been in the past.
“We understand that five kiwi were gifted to the USA many years ago, for the purpose of increasing genetic diversity in the USA population held across zoos, sanctuaries and wildlife parks,” she said.
“Once native species are gifted to overseas institutions the responsibility of care lies with the receiving institutions.”
It wasn’t always that way: according to a 1946 report in Melbourne’s long-closed Argus newspaper, the Government refused to allow Auckland Zoo to send a kiwi egg to Melbourne Zoo in exchange for a platypus.
It also wasn’t the first time that worries about kiwi welfare in overseas zoos had come up.
“Concerns were raised in the 1990s about the conditions under which kiwi were being displayed overseas,” Aikman said.
“These were addressed and resolved at the time.”
In the US, the care of kiwi is governed by the AZA, to which the ZAA grants accreditation if they have “clearly demonstrated their commitment to positive welfare”.
The first zoo to hatch a kiwi outside New Zealand was Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC, in 1975.
Since then, seven more have hatched at the zoo, while the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has received 10 chicks – with two hatched last year.
Of those birds, six have gone on to breeding programmes. The institute has also sent eight fertile eggs to zoos around the US, including Zoo Miami and Zoo New England.
The latter lists its brown kiwi, housed at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, as among those having specific AZA Species Survival Plans and says “great care” is taken within its exhibit to “shine just the right amount of light so visitors can best observe their natural behaviours”.
“By utilising a reverse light cycle, visitors have the unique opportunity to watch these birds as they forage and explore their exhibit.”
Elsewhere in the US, kiwi have been hatched or housed at San Diego Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Memphis Zoo, which has housed kiwi off and on since 1991.
Kiwi have also been kept at Antwerp Zoo in Belgium; Tennoji Zoo in Osaka, Japan; Jurong Bird Park, the Singapore Zoo; Avifauna Bird Park in the Netherlands; and in Germany at Zoo Berlin, Walsrode Bird Park and Frankfurt Zoo, which has been breeding the bird for 40 years and, in 2021, hatched its 50th chick.
The UK’s only resident kiwi is Manu, which arrived at Devon’s Paignton Zoo from Frankfurt Zoo in 2016.
“Please be aware that our kiwi, Manu, is nocturnal so you are not likely to see him during your day visit to the zoo,” the zoo tells visitors.
Closer to Aotearoa, kiwi have been hatched at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.
How can Kiwis help kiwi in New Zealand?
“While Paora’s situation is concerning, it has been heartwarming to see how much support he has received from New Zealanders both here and overseas,” Impey said.
“We hope this enthusiasm will encourage Kiwis to support the recovery of the kiwi population right here in New Zealand too.”
Aotearoa used to be home to millions of kiwi – but just 68,000 remain today, with an estimated 20 birds killed by predators each week.
“The reality is that many kiwi die in New Zealand forests every year,” Impey said.
“In fact, 95 per cent of all kiwi chicks that hatch in areas where there is no predator control will die before they reach adulthood, most likely due to stoats.
“To create more habitat where kiwi can thrive, we need more predator control.”
Impey said dogs were a big threat to the species, despite many owners assuming their dogs would not hurt a kiwi.
“It doesn’t matter how well-trained or well-behaved a dog is, one day it could come across a kiwi, be attracted to its interesting scent and hurt it, even if it was just playing.
“We encourage all dog owners to keep their dogs away from areas where kiwi live, always keep their dog on a leash when they’re outdoors with it, know where they are at night, and use dog parks and dog-approved sites when exercising their pets.”
Much of the effort to reverse a 2 per cent annual decline in the national population was carried out by volunteers.
“Many of these people work tirelessly checking and resetting traps; many of them have never even seen a kiwi but they’re passionate about seeing this taonga species return to places it used to be for the sake of future generations,” Impey said.
“To help support these volunteer groups, we encourage people to donate funds either to them directly or to Save the Kiwi, which supports these community groups doing such important mahi on the ground.”
People can make donations online at savethekiwi.nz/donate.