The week before last, members of our local dog lovers group, The Bay of Islands Watchdogs, found a dead kiwi in grass near cleared land by Long Beach, Russell.
The bird had no lacerations on it. They gave the kiwi to DOC for assessment, who said that the autopsy showed the bird had "injuries consistent with a dog attack". It might have been trying to return to recently cleared habitat in the area. There is no conclusive proof as to how this kiwi died, but we were all saddened to hear that it did.
The BOI Watchdogs' response to this was to say a big thanks to the honest dog walkers, then warn our members and locals, asking them to make sure their dogs were secured, especially near kiwi areas.
'We should not let a few zealots rip our community apart! In areas where conservationists are sensible and collaborative, they are getting together with dog owners to work out how to coexist happily.'
And that should have been the end of this tale. But instead, a number of things have occurred.
* A photo of a kiwi with a large laceration was given by DOC to the papers and to Russell Lights, and published as being a photo the Russell kiwi. Those who found the kiwi stated categorically that this laceration was not on the kiwi when they found it.
* Letters and articles about this kiwi, from DOC and Russell Landcare Trust, have appeared all over the district. An article on DOC's website is headlined "Kiwi Killed By A Dog on Popular Dog Walking Beach".
Read more: Kiwi killed by a dog in Russell
This kiwi's death has been touted as a warning against people walking their dogs, off leash, while on beaches. There is however nil evidence that this kiwi was killed by such a dog, if indeed it was killed by a dog.
* Going a step further, Russell Landcare Trust said that the council had "blood on their hands" because they have, in their view, listened too much to our dog lobby group in letting people walk dogs on beaches. This, too, is fake news. There has been no weakening of dog control bylaws. Council can legally impound any dog it finds wandering, out of control of its owner.
* There is no fanfare when kiwi are run over by cars in Russell and surrounds. Given that we hear anecdotally of locals finding such kiwi, why is this information not collected, or publicised?
Here are the facts:
* Around 40 per cent of Northland households own dogs.
* It is safer for kiwi to live close to human habitation than deep in the bush, because humans tend to control key predators such as stoats, ferrets and rats.
* DOC and Russell Landcare Trust have supported the release of kiwi very close to humans in the Bay of Islands.
* DOC has successfully lobbied our district council to place covenants on many parcels of land, forbidding residents to own dogs and cats. Real estate agents have told us that they are struggling to find land for people who own dogs in those areas. Several legal cases against this have failed to reverse these covenants.
* In their last public written submissions to council over the Dog Control Bylaw, Russell Nature Walks submitted a photograph of their neighbours' properties, to show where they believed residents had dogs in breach of antidog land covenants. They recommended that if those dogs were impounded, they should not be returned to their owners. They recommended a one-dog limit per household in any area where a community group is looking after kiwi.
* DOC proposed that dogs be either prohibited, or on leash, on beaches ALL the time during the day.
* The Mid North Alliance of Landcare Groups said that "dogs and cats should be regarded as a pest species that need to have controls covering them."
* DOC figures just published online show that the estimated number of brown kiwi in Northland has increased by 250 in the last year — despite the number of dogs in this district.
* There have been 49 "tracked" kiwi killed in Northland since January 2016. Of these, only one was known to have been killed by a dog, and the vast majority were killed by ferrets and stoats.
Tracked kiwis represent only a small portion of our kiwi population, but the figures give us a broad indication of the proportion of kiwi killed by dogs, which is way lower than publicity around the issue would have us believe.
Dogs can kill kiwi, and we must be as careful as we can that they do not. We need to work together to try to reduce the number of lost and wandering and dumped dogs in Northland. But let's do so with facts, honesty and collaboration, not fake photos and dramatic headlines.
Ironically, dogs and their owners are being demonised so badly that many of us who are both bird and dog lovers are starting to question the whole notion of native birds being released near to our homes. Is that what these people want? To drive out everyone other than those who would make Russell and the Kiwi Corridor their own giant aviary? This seems like madness to us, when we love kiwi and other native birds too.
We should not let a few zealots rip our community apart! In areas where conservationists are sensible and collaborative, they are getting together with dog owners to work out how to coexist happily. We've had advice from a local conservationist on where to avoid endangered wildlife in the Bay of Islands, and we will support that in the upcoming Dog Control Bylaw. But not every beach, and every park, and every home!
The vast majority of dog owners, and environmentalists, are lovely people. Let's keep this in perspective, stick to the facts, and learn to live together without this unkindness.