After a notable absence, kiwi will, once again, roam free throughout the Pukenui Forest on Whangarei's Western outskirts.
It's been an elaborate, ten-year slog for the Pukenui Western Hills Forest Charitable Trust to intensively manage the 1,700 hectare land and reinstate it to a standard safe for kiwi to live.
This involved controlling mammalian predators – a different task to eradication, explains Pukenui ranger Bevan Cramp.
"Being on the mainland, eradication of mammalian pests isn't really an option as waves of pests continuously reinvade the area. This means the aim is to control the pests, rather than try and completely remove them, which is a huge task and an effort we can't let subside if we want to give our native species a place of refuge."
The translocation will take place on March 17, when 12 of the 40 adult kiwi destined for Pukenui Forest, will be transported from predator-free Motuora Island, in the Hauraki Gulf. They were originally sourced as eggs or chicks from Ngati Hine rohe, in Whangarei before being raised to maturity on the island. The remaining kiwi will return to the forest over the next three years, with further kiwi sourced from Matakohe/Limestone Island to supplement the population. All kiwi will be fitted with transmitters and closely monitored for at least a year.
Pukenui Forest was logged in the 1920s but has since regenerated and is now the largest remaining remnant of native forest in the Whangarei district. Managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Whangarei District Council (WDC), the forest is a mix of both old growth and regenerating forest with greatly varying terrain, encompassing mountains, valleys and countless streams. Additionally, there are several important Maori archaeological sites, including defended pa sites and kainga (villages).
"The varied terrain and forest types within Pukenui Forest provide a multitude of different habitats for many native species," says Bevan. "This includes several bird, reptile, fish and invertebrate species, as well as several rare plant species. Species of note are kukupa, long-tailed bat, tomtit, tui and ruru, as well as occasional visitors, such as kaka and pateke."
Bevan says, in the past, species such as North Island kokako, riflemen, kakariki and, of course, kiwi would also have lived there. However, due to human impacts; the introduction of mammalian predators such as dogs, mustelids, possums, rats and feral cats, many species have become locally extinct within Pukenui.
"It is not unlikely that extinct species, such as piopio, huia and laughing owl would have also dwelled here before these species were lost completely," he adds.
Bevan says it's unclear how long kiwi have been absent from the area after the population was wiped out by predators.
"The last report I know of was locals hearing kiwi calls around Woods Rd four or five years ago. However, this was not confirmed. We can say with certainty they were still in there in the 1990s as there are records of dogs killing kiwi in the area - hence the reason we are really pushing the no-dog message ahead of March's release."
Dogs are the biggest killers of adult kiwi in Northland and any dog is capable of doing so, he says.
"The best way to ensure this doesn't happen is to never let dogs and kiwi meet in the first place, which means not taking dogs into kiwi zones, such as Pukenui Forest, the Whau Valley Dam catchment and Coronation Reserve."
The kiwi translocation is but one step of many on Pukenui Trust's journey to return the forest back to its natural state.
"The aim of all this is, not only to return kiwi, but to restore the Pukenui Forest to the pristine native ecosystem that it once was. We hope to further enhance the forest for a long time yet which would include the translocation of other species in the future."
Bevan says it has been a long road with Pukenui Forest Trust working alongside DOC, WDC, Northland Regional Council and local hapu, but well worth it.
"It's a massive accomplishment of which a huge amount of people have, in some way, been involved. This includes, not only the previously mentioned parties, but also sponsors, school groups, Northtec students and other volunteers who have contributed in different ways over the years."
To celebrate the DOC approval of the translocation, a public ceremony will be held at Maunu Primary School on March 17 at 1pm to welcome home the first of the kiwi before they are placed in pre-installed release boxes in the forest, from which they will be released later that night.
Meanwhile, public meetings will be held at the Quarry Gardens March 7 and Hurupaki School March 8 to engage the wider community about Pukenui Forest, kiwi and the threat uncontrolled dogs pose to the kiwi.