By Jodi Bryant
Ever imagined what a real life Kiwi feels like? This month, for a gold coin donation, you can find out via Sparky the one-legged Kiwi.
Sparky resides in Whangarei and is unique for several reasons: besides his mono-limb, he is the only kiwi who handles human touch, and the only flying kiwi in the world.
Many are unaware that Whangarei hosts this rarity and Rainbows Relics owners Sandy and Ian Benjamin are keen to do something about it, while raising money for Sparky and his peers.
"The Kiwi is our New Zealand icon and I cannot believe how many people are uneducated about them," says Sandy. "We're allowing the chance for people to come and meet Sparky, touch him and have their photo taken with him here at the shop for a gold coin donation, with all the proceeds going towards the Bird Recovery Centre."
Thirteen-year-old Sparky was found as a youngster trapped in a gin trap and, as a result, lost his leg. Unable to survive in the wild, he was hand-raised and became a permanent resident at Whangarei's Native Bird Recovery Centre.
"He's a friendly kiwi and is no longer nocturnal – he doesn't know any different," explains Sandy.
His tame nature has allowed Sparky to become an ambassador for promoting wildlife conservation and the centre founders Robert and Robyn Webb take Sparky all over the country for education purposes – hence his flying status.
The Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers who rehabilitate injured or ill birds before returning them to the wild.
The idea came about when Sandy went for a walk one day near the couple's antiques and collectables shop and bumped into Robert Webb.
"I asked him how things were going and he mentioned how tight things were. I came back, got the cheque book and gave him a donation but that started me thinking what else I could do to help."
An idea began to form and she asked Robert if he would loan Sparky for a day and set him up in a temporary 'kiwi sanctuary' at the front of the shop for people to come and meet and touch (but not hold).
This is taking place on Saturday June 16 from 10am-2pm for a gold coin donation per person and includes a free sausage sizzle.
"So many people don't know what a Kiwi feels like and it's not what you expect!"
Sandy says the customers she has mentioned it to are putting it in their diaries and are just as excited as she is.
"People are saying it's always been their dream to see or touch a kiwi. I heard of a tourist in Palmerston North who asked how they could touch a kiwi. So, they hired a car and drove all the way to Whangarei to see Sparky.
"I want so many people to have the opportunity while collecting as much funds as possible. I'm hoping to fill this jar up twice!"
Sandy and Ian are already planning a much larger 'Stage Two' fundraiser for the Bird Recovery Centre; they are hoping to seek funding of up to $100,000 a year between five companies to become sponsors of a new manager for the centre.
"This would allow Robert to hire a manager to train to run the centre so he can travel around the country to educate. The centre runs programmes teaching school children about the wild life programme – the next generation is a vital part – if we don't teach them right, we've lost so much.
"People need to know that Robert and Robyn have given up half of their lives and dedicated it to helping animals who can't speak for themselves. They are going to retire one day and we need other people to step up. I can relate this theory to what our business is based upon: The craftsmanship that our forefathers did, the majority of cabinetmakers today can't do because it's a lost skill and that's exactly what's going to happen to our bird recovery centre if we don't help them."