By Louise Ternouth of RNZ
Eight kiwi have been found mauled by dogs in Northland’s Ōpua Forest by Bay Bush Action Group in the past month alone.
The group has spent 12 years working to restore the forest and had seen the number of kiwi found in the bush grow from virtually zero to around 20.
Like many native forests, pests had free rein in Northland’s Ōpua Forest for around 30 years.
The 2000ha forest near Paihia fell silent and was in full collapse.
But 12 years ago, Bay Bush Action Group was founded and began to bring it back to life, targeting possums, feral cats, rats and stoats.
Bay Bush Action member Dean Baigent-Mercer said the results spoke for themselves.
“These are some lovely little green hood orchids they’re native and they come up at the end of winter, start of spring.
“Having them here means that there’s not high possum numbers because they just come and mow them down.”
Sounds of native birds such as tūī, miromiro and kākā now filled the forest.
Kiwi have also made a comeback.
“Four, five years in, suddenly there was one call then another in these places that didn’t have any birds and so their numbers built up over about five years quite rapidly.”
But chairman of the group Craig Salmon said the past month had been devastating because eight kiwi had been killed by roaming dogs.
“It’s pretty clear and pretty evident that dogs have done this damage ... We put [in] enormous effort we get all these people involved and to have it kind of just disappear in an instant, it’s gutting.”
He said if owners could not keep their dogs under control, there would be little hope for kiwi in the forest.
“You’ve absolutely got to know where your dog is and at all times. Roaming dogs are an absolute no-no.
“Know where your dog is and know your dog and keep it safe and keep our kiwi safe.”
But all was not lost, kiwi had recently been heard in the forest and as Salmon was showing RNZ around he spotted a burrow that had been recently used.
Ariki Baldwin was one of about 30 workers in charge of checking traps in the forest once a month. There were 4000 traps in total in the forest.
His assigned area covered about 200ha and took him four days to complete, so he stayed in the bush while on the job.
“I love it. I worked in an office for years, I’d never go back.”
But Baldwin said the best part of the job was when he saw the fruits of his labour.
“There’s a plant called the kiekie and it has this fruit called the tāwhara. [It’s] the most beautiful fruit, I think, the native bush produces. I hadn’t seen that plant and fruit for about 40 years ... and two years ago ... I saw this plant.”
Once a female kiwi has laid her egg, the male sits on it for 80 days and at night time they call to each other.
Despite the recent spate of attacks, recently the group heard their calls.
Bay Bush Action took RNZ out at night to the spot where a male and female had recently been.
Because the forest had a history of being burnt, there were fewer trees available for kiwi to burrow under.
Fifteen wooden kiwi boxes were dotted throughout the forest.
Salmon said this provided protection while the birds were nesting.
Despite his best efforts, even playing a recording of a kiwi call to try to get a response, the night trip was an unsuccessful attempt to spot any kiwi.
The group’s work is made possible by a mixture of hundreds of volunteers and some workers paid through the government’s Jobs for Nature scheme.
But Salmon said come next year there was huge uncertainty.
“We don’t have secure funding going forward for continuing this really great work ... we’re actually really concerned that in this election no political party has really talked about how they’re going to continue funding successful jobs for nature projects.”
The group’s work was vital to reach the country’s predator-free 2050 goal and to restore native kiwi numbers.