The aspiration that kiwi will once again become abundant and their call will be heard by many throughout the Coromandel Peninsula is becoming real, says Kiwis for Kiwi Coromandel Kōhanga co-ordinator Paula Williams.

The Coromandel has the greatest rate of kiwi recovery in the country because so much of the land where kiwi live has active and efficient pest and predator control. There are many involved in this effort protecting native species and every effort, no matter how big or small, is significant. Every dead stoat helps a kiwi chick live.

But we're not there yet.

Our aspiration is not yet fully realised. If we want our children, and our grandchildren, to hear kiwi from their bedrooms as they fall asleep at night, we need to keep going and we need to bring more people along with us.

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Kiwi need our help. It is our job to keep them safe from what hurts them. While we can celebrate our rate of recovery on the peninsula – currently 4.8 per cent - way above the aim of reversing -2 per cent annual decline, we must also understand what the statistics are telling us.

Some 75 per cent of the land where kiwi live currently has pest and predator control in place. This means 25 per cent of kiwi are vulnerable. Kiwi can thrive, but only in spaces we remove predators.

The opportunity ahead of us is to stack the numbers in favour of kiwi. If we increase the number of people involved in pest and predator control, and increase the places where pest and predator control is, there will be less things out there to hurt kiwi.

This means more kiwi living in more parts of the peninsula, increasing the opportunity for people to experience the thrill of living next door to kiwi.

The project 'To the motu and back' is a key part of returning kiwi in abundance to the Coromandel Peninsula.

To achieve this, a population of Coromandel brown kiwi is being established on predator-free Motutapu Island. Free from danger, kiwi released onto Motutapu Island will breed and create a robust population that can be returned to safe sites on the peninsula, expanding existing populations, boosting small remnant populations and even creating new ones.

The first stage of this project is to build a geographically well-represented founding population of kiwi on Motutapu Island.

Kiwis for kiwi is sourcing this population through monitoring of adult male kiwi in a variety of spaces on the Coromandel and lifting their eggs.

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This Operation Nest Egg (ONE) programme sees eggs hatched at a captive-rearing facility and then released onto Motutapu Island and this will be their forever home. We are using this programme strategically.

We realise it may not have been an easy decision because it has meant a short-term loss for the kiwi population you represent and also because the decision was made on behalf of something that owns itself. We hope it brings you comfort and joy to know that within this project, kiwi have been moved to a safe space to make more kiwi that will return home in the not-so-distant future.

So far 106 kiwi have been released onto Motutapu Island and the island population already has the representation of 52 sires. It is highly likely a number of chicks have hatched on Motutapu Island, so realistically there's more kiwi than just those released on the island.

The second stage of this project is to bring kiwi hatched on Motutapu Island home to the Coromandel Peninsula. Only non-microchipped birds will leave the island to maintain the founding population.

They will also exceed a specified weight threshold to ensure they're big enough to fend off a stoat once back on the peninsula and they will only be released into spaces we know are safe.

Setting out trap and trap boxes to help keep kiwi safe. Photo / Te Kauae O Maui Nature Reserve
Setting out trap and trap boxes to help keep kiwi safe. Photo / Te Kauae O Maui Nature Reserve

This will happen once the population on Motutapu Island reaches half of its carrying capacity.

The project is working with the Kapowai Kiwi Group and avoiding the Port Charles and Stony Bay areas because of their contribution already, looking at sites on the western side like Papa Aroha, Tuateawa and the Colville Hills.

Kiwis for Kiwi will also start implementing a number of different monitoring techniques on Motutapu Island to understand the population size and its growth, so we know more precisely when kiwi can start returning kiwi to the Coromandel
Peninsula.

The numbers returning to the peninsula will be in smaller quantities initially, but if estimates are correct, could be in excess of 200 kiwi annually, and perpetually, once carrying capacity on Motutapu Island is reached.

The next challenge is getting ready for kiwi to come home by making sure the places we bring them back to are safe. Sustaining, expanding and making new areas safe for kiwi will not happen overnight and not without significant effort.