A lowland kiwi with a taste for adventure on the snowy highlands of South Westland has been saved from certain death by search and rescue volunteers and a mountain rescue team.
The adventurous rare rowi kiwi, named Aroha, was one of 27 juvenile rowi released into the area around Lake Gault, near Fox Glacier, in December last year.
Rowi are the rarest of the five species of kiwi — their conservation status is considered to be "threatened - nationally vulnerable" and their population was just 450 in 2015 — and the juvenile rowi were being monitored after their release, Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Iain Graham said.
"While some haven't travelled far – a few hundred metres from their release point ... Aroha had travelled a long way. She'd gone from Lake Gault, out toward Gillespies on the coastline and then headed inland, across the State Highway and up into the mountains behind Fox Glacier township."
That was a distance of more than 12km and, at 1250m, more than double the elevation of any previously monitored rowi kiwi.
"This is a lowland kiwi we are talking about here — or so we thought."
After Aroha found herself stuck on a cliff face, department rangers twice tried to reach her. But they realised they needed help, Graham said.
"Rangers called in the ACR (Alpine Cliff Rescue) Team, a group of highly trained volunteers who provide an alpine and cliff rescue service as part of LandSAR South Westland.
"The team of experienced mountaineers and rope rescue experts treated the mission to collect the lost kiwi as a training exercise."
Working in snowy and steep conditions they found Aroha trapped on a small ledge surrounded by bluffs, he said.
"[She] undoubtedly would have died had she not been rescued."
Aroha was now safely back on low ground, although her whereabouts would continue to be monitored by rangers.
"[She's back in] lowland forest, where there are more grubs and insects to feed on, and we expect her to regain the weight she has lost and get ready for her next adventure."
Rowi were previously widespread throughout the North and South Island, but by the 1990s were confined to just one mainland population of around 150 in Okarito forest.
The release of 27 juvenile rowi into the area around Lake Gault in the Omoeroa ranges in 2018, to start a new mainland population, marked a significant milestone in this species recovery, Graham said.