The monitored adult rowi kiwi was killed on Forks-Ōkārito Road in Franz Josef on the West Coast of the South Island. The bird’s untimely death occurred within one kilometre of several cautionary ‘kiwi’ signs.
DOC Biodiversity Ranger Rheanne Sullivan says: “We know from his transmitter data he had just started incubating an egg, which now won’t survive. It’s a devasting double loss.”
The kiwi, named Tony, was a 23-year-old male and well known to the team as one of the early successes of the Operation Nest Egg programme. Rowi are a long – lived species and can reach 80 years of age.
Even as a relatively young bird, Tony was an important breeder, playing his part in the recovery of his species.
“While Tony’s death was surely an accident, it was probably also avoidable,” Rheanne Sullivan says.
“The ‘kiwi’ signs along Forks-Ōkārito Road – and many roads around the country- are not just there for to take selfies with. They are there to caution drivers that kiwi can often be on the road at night and extra care is needed.
“Ōkārito locals regularly see kiwi on the road and certain birds are known to have roadside territories and feed on the verges.
“Some kiwi – generally older birds – are more ‘road-smart’ than others, but if you are driving too fast, even they might not have time to get out of the way. Some birds don’t move out of the way at all. Tony had lived near the road for most of his adult life.
“Something you hear too often is ‘I thought it was a possum’, and it makes your heart sink. As kiwi populations grow, kiwi on roads will become more common, and we need people to understand it’s important to slow down when they see these signs.”
Tony’s body was handed in by a local person who had found him.
Rheanne says: “If people do accidently hit a kiwi, we really appreciate them letting us know, so we can better understand the circumstances, which might help us prevent further deaths and better protect the birds.”
This sad news comes only weeks after two kiwi were killed on a road in Whangarei. In Ōkārito, this is the seventh rowi known to have been killed on the road.
Rowi, now one of New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, were historically widespread along the South Island West Coast and up into the East Coast of the North Island before habitat loss and introduced predators reduced their numbers to a small remnant population.
The rowi population had reduced to a tiny number of just 160 kiwi in Ōkārito Forest before intensive breeding support work started with the kiwi in the early 2000’s. Since that time, the rowi population has grown to almost 600 kiwi. As well as having populations restored in Ōkārito and South Ōkārito Forest, the kiwi were recently reestablished in the Omoeroa coastal ranges, near the town of Fox Glacier.
Kiwi technology allows rangers to monitor nests and kiwi from the air, making work to manage kiwi far less labour intensive and allow more work to help the population to occur.
The Operation Nest Egg programme which is used to increase rowi numbers sees DOC rangers collect eggs laid by monitored kiwi. Rowi are then hatched at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, raised at Willowbank in Christchurch, and then mature on islands in the Marlborough Sounds. The programme receives ongoing support from Air New Zealand, Wildbase and Dunedin Wildlife Hospital, Kaipupu sanctuary, E-Ko tours and Te Waonui Forest retreat.