In a joint effort that brought together kiwi handlers and conservation volunteers from across the region, a team under the leadership of the Department of Conservation rescued 18 dehydrated kiwi off a Hauraki Gulf island after 14 birds died.
As the drought persevered in the North throughout May and June, food and water levels on Motuora – a kiwi creche island in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park – reached critical levels.
DoC resident ranger on Motuora, Vonny Sprey began putting out water bowls for kiwi last December, after noticing more kiwi out during the day and finding dehydrated kiwi chicks.
She even captured a video of a kiwi out on the beach during the day foraging for food.
But while the video delighted kiwi fans online nicknaming the bird "Beach Girl", it was a sign that all was not well.
The situation came to a head after nine adults and five juveniles died on the island.
"During lockdown in May, a decision was made to remove kiwi as soon as possible after Covid-19 lockdown conditions allowed," a DoC spokesperson said.
"Normally we move 20 kiwi annually off Motuora to safe havens in lower Northland where the kiwi originated. But this year, because of the Covid-19 lockdown, we were unable to do so earlier. It was particularly difficult given the drought conditions on the island."
Beach Girl was first to come off the island and was taken straight into Robert Webb's caring hands at the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre.
After feeding up well for a week, she was quietly released into the Whangārei Heads area by Backyard Kiwi Project manager Todd Hamilton.
DoC biodiversity ranger Ayla Wiles then pulled together a kiwi rescue team consisting of Julia Brady (DoC), Rolf Fuchs and Pete Graham (Northland Regional Council), Todd Hamilton, Bevan Cramp and Ben Lovell (Pukenui Western Hills Forest Trust) and Ngaire Sullivan (Kiwi Coast).
The crew, joined by Auckland Zoo vet, Dr Stefan Saverimuttu headed to the island in early June.
Working till 4.30am, the kiwi rescue crew captured 17 kiwi, and each was assessed for its health condition, weighed, fitted with a transmitter and in three instances, immediately given 30ml of fluid.
"Unsurprisingly, the kiwi were assessed to be in poor condition, and well under-weight given their size and estimated age," Sullivan said.
After a few hours' sleep, the rescue crew were up again to transport the 17 kiwi to the mainland and into the care of two community-led projects.
Eleven birds went to Marunui Conservation in the Brynderwyn Hills and six to Pukenui Western Hills Forest Trust in Whangārei.
"Both projects have extensive predator control and good dog control plans in place, plus accredited kiwi handlers who can monitor the kiwi and track their progress," Sullivan explained.
"Beach Girl, the video star, is already exceeding expectations of recovery."
Two weeks ago, her weight had increased to 2250g from 1650g on her release day. That's 600g in just 15 nights, showing she was feeding up well and recovering swiftly.
Meanwhile on Motuora, recent rain has softened the ground, improving feeding conditions for remaining kiwi on the island.
"The campground has become a foraging site for kiwi so that has been closed until August 20 to provide more places for kiwi to seek out a meal," DoC said.
They said the limits of smaller island sanctuaries like Motuora were well known:
"Without larger areas of standing water drought-prone islands have a limit to their carrying capacity for some species. However, they are ideal for raising species in manageable, predator-free environments."
The island creche currently has a resident population of more than 150 birds.
A 19th kiwi was brought off recently.