A North Island brown kiwi faces a long recovery after being rescued from a Taranaki road culvert.

It is a mystery as to how the bird ended up trapped in the culvert near Tongapōrutu, but it's certain the bird's survival is thanks to the combined quick actions of two roading inspectors, Department of Conservation (DoC) rangers and veterinary staff at the New Plymouth Veterinary Group and Massey University's Wildbase Hospital in Palmerston North.

Logan Turner, a junior network inspector with infrastructure company Downer, was with his colleague Isaak Ryan inspecting culverts on behalf of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency on State Highway 3 near Tongapōrutu when they spotted the trapped kiwi.

"It was the first time I'd seen a kiwi in real life, so it was pretty cool. I have never come across wildlife while inspecting culverts before."

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After contacting their supervisor, the two men called the 0800 DOC HOT phone number and offered advice on the tools needed to remove the metal grate and access the bird.

DoC Ranger Alison Evans, wearing elbow-length bird-handling gloves and overalls, clambered into the sump leading off the culvert and freed the kiwi from its predicament. She says despite being a wild creature, it didn't appear to mind being handled.

"It didn't have any objection to being picked up and seemed almost relieved to be rescued. It was underweight, cold and suffering from exhaustion."

She says the kiwi had been stuck in a dangerous location.

"The culvert was a pretty inhospitable place to be imprisoned, with large trucks travelling past at open road speeds only a few metres away and water at the bottom of the sump."

Despite the kiwi seemingly happy to be handled, its lack of microchip or leg-band means it is most likely to be wild and not bred in captivity or released into the conservation area.

Emaciated and battered, the kiwi was taken to Massey University's Wildbase Hospital, where staff began immediate treatment.

Wildbase supervisor technician Pauline Nijman says the kiwi had been trying to escape its roadside trap and the nails on each of his feet were worn down to the bone.

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So far the kiwi has had several weeks of care, including several "pedicures" to clean the nails and bone, x-rays and blood samples, she says.

"This kiwi is such a fighter. We are happy to report the little superstar is eating well in hospital and after the first week – when it was touch and go - he has started to venture around his room, exercise, forage and gain some much needed weight. But it's going to be a long journey."

The kiwi, pictured here under anaesthetic, is being treated at Massey University's Wildbase Hospital. Photo / Wildbase Hospital.
The kiwi, pictured here under anaesthetic, is being treated at Massey University's Wildbase Hospital. Photo / Wildbase Hospital.

It will be several weeks before Wildbase vets will know if the kiwi has a chance of long-term survival. If he can be released back into the wild, DOC will liaise with iwi on arrangements.

Evens says she's pleased and grateful the staff from Downer took the initiative to call 0800 DOC HOT when they saw the kiwi was in trouble.

"We all have an obligation to watch out for injured native wildlife and this kiwi was very fortunate to be found alive. DOC, iwi and community groups have invested a lot of time into protecting areas known to support kiwi. This one who would have almost certainly died if it hadn't been found."

Waka Kotahi Transport systems manager Ross l'Anson also commended the two Downer workers for their efforts in saving the kiwi.

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The pair did everything right and thanks to their quick action, the kiwi has a good chance at recovery," he says.

Turner says he is happy he and Isaak Ryan found the kiwi in time, and its health is improving.

If people discover kiwi stuck in holes, drains or culverts – and the bird appears unable to get out – DOC recommends using a plank of some kind to create a ramp for the bird to climb on.