Miami Zoo has announced that Paora the kiwi will no longer be offered up for paid encounters with the public after videos of the bird being paraded in daylight for selfies with zoo visitors went viral, causing outrage.
Ron Magill, communications director for Miami Zoo, told the Herald that they had listened to the response from New Zealanders.
“We regret the unintentional stress caused by a video on social media depicting the handling of Paora, the kiwi bird currently housed within Zoo Miami,” Magill said.
Magill apologised profusely to RNZ, saying he told the zoo director: “We have offended a nation”.
“When I saw the video myself I said we have made a huge mistake here.
“I am so sorry. I am so remorseful. Someone asked how would you feel if we did that to your bald eagle, and you’re 100 per cent right.
“I never want to come across as making excuses, I am here to apologise... to everyone. I feel profoundly terrible about this.”
Magill said on the positive side, Paora is incredibly healthy and is thriving at the Zoo.
“He eats like he’s on a spa day every day and he’s doing well. It doesn’t excuse what he was subjected to. But I promise it will never happen again.”
He said that the concerns expressed by the community “have been taken very seriously” and told the Herald that their $40 “Kiwi Encounter” will no longer be offered.
“We should have known better,” Magill told AM this morning.
”We were really not sensitive to the fact that this bird is a national symbol, that it is an icon, it is a spiritual animal.”
Video of Paora being petted and put up for selfies caused outrage online, with concerned New Zealanders launching a petition to “help save” the bird.
The zoo was also flooded by complaints on social media, as New Zealanders rose up to protest our national bird being petted by zoo visitors under bright lights.
Magill said Paora would now be going back into the dark.
“Paora is being kept in a quiet, isolated off-exhibit area where he can remain in a dark secluded area during the day and have the freedom to explore his habitat during the evening hours. He continues to be in excellent health,” Magill said.
He said the zoo was committed to providing him with the best environment possible and was in the process of creating a new habitat.
Robert Webb from Whāngarei’s Native Bird Recovery Centre told the Herald yesterday that Paora appeared to be distressed by his treatment.
“I don’t think that bird will last long. You’ll notice he’s got his eyes closed nearly the whole bloody time when they’re touching him. He’s terrified.”
Webb, who has cared for hundreds of kiwi over the years, told the Herald that the birds were extremely sensitive animals, saying even the sound of paper being shredded “scares the hell out of them” and said Paora “won’t survive” if he continues being handled in the manner seen in the videos.
Webb compared Paora’s treatment at Miami Zoo to the marine mammals at Florida’s SeaWorld.
“Animals are born to be free, not kept in cages. They’ll flog the hell out of that and I bet they make good money out of it.”
Webb said the zoo’s approach was “totally wrong” and encouraged breeding animals just to “show off” and make money.
Magill said today that they were “committed to providing him with the best environment possible while respecting and honouring all that he represents”.
He also said that Paora is doing well and in “excellent health”.
‘It’s a taonga’
The bird was named in honour of New Zealand environmentalist and iwi leader Paora Haitana, who was part of a delegation that visited Zoo Miami for an official ceremony after the bird hatched back in 2019.
Haitana told RNZ that he was concerned by the bird’s treatment.
“It’s our signature, we’re known as the kiwi, so it goes against everything the bird was given to them for.”
Haitana said the bird should have been kept in darkness and was worried it would have damaged eyesight.
He said it was his understanding that the bird would be looked after in a way that was consistent with how they were cared for in New Zealand.
“It’s a taonga and absolutely it was given in good faith that it would be managed, controlled and looked after by Miami Zoo, so it’s a concern, huge concern.”
This morning, Magill said he would be happy to have a discussion with Haitana regarding his concerns.