Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre manager Robert Webb is calling for dog owners to take more responsibility for their animals, after a male kiwi that was sitting on an egg was attacked by a dog near Kerikeri.

Webb, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to wildlife conservation in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June, said it was 'smack in the face' for him when the injured bird was brought into the centre this week.

The injured bird's 12-day old egg was also saved and is now in the centre's incubation unit, and it's hoped it will hatch.

The attack comes just days after news of a wandering dog blamed for the deaths of at least five kiwi in what is believed to be a series of attacks in the Okaihau area over the last fortnight, adding to an increasingly grim tally of kiwi deaths across Northland.

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Another was in February 2018, when dogs killed at least six kiwi over several days on Hansen Rd, on the Purerua Peninsula in the northern Bay of Islands, an area that has one of the densest populations of North Island brown kiwi in the country.

"Landowners found the kiwi and after having a look around found its nest with the egg in it, which is just as well as the egg would not have survived without its dad to look after it,'' he said.

"Dog attacks are incredibly frustrating. Teams of people are out there doing their best to save these birds and in one night their efforts can be wiped out – it's a real smack in the face."

The kiwi's egg also survived the dog attack and is in the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre's incubation unit.
The kiwi's egg also survived the dog attack and is in the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre's incubation unit.

The Kerikeri dog attack follows the mauling to death of several Northland kiwi in recent weeks – including one Webb had nursed back to health.

"Kiwi suffering from the drought were moved to Northland from Motuora Island in Auckland. The Bird Centre cared for two of them, got them eating again and well enough to be released on the Whangarei Heads, but unfortunately, one was soon caught by a dog and killed – it's heartbreaking."

Webb lays the blame for the attacks firmly with dog owners.

"You take your dog into a forest and let it off, it's clearly not going to chase rabbits – it's going to chase after kiwi if there are any around – a dog can smell a kiwi 100 metres away,''he said.

"People need to take time to stop and think – are there kiwi in the area, if you don't know then call the Department of Conservation and ask – it's not difficult."

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Webb said dogs not being tied up at night and allowed to roam were another reason for attacks.

With so many dog attacks, Webb is calling for an education programme for dog owners, particularly dog aversion training, which trains dogs to avoid kiwi.

"The number of times I've heard people say, 'my dog would never harm a kiwi, they've never even seen one', and then be completely surprised when their dog kills a kiwi. Kiwi don't have a breastbone, so there is no protection from a dog bite – they get crushed immediately, usually fatally,'' he said.

"An education programme, including dog aversion training is more important than ever if we're going to reverse the decline of our national icon."

Webb expects the kiwi at the Bird Centre to make a full recovery. Its egg will remain in the Centre's incubation unit where it will take another 70 days to hatch.

DoC said predation on kiwi by dogs is the strongest driver of population trends in Northland.

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Dogs, in particular, are a major threat to kiwi populations and kill large numbers of birds each year. Kiwi have a very strong scent that is attractive to dogs and their lack of sternum and undeveloped chest muscles makes them particularly vulnerable to being crushed in a dog's mouth. Dogs of all sizes and breeds are capable of killing kiwi.

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