Monday, September 15, 2008

Tramping for a Good Cause

On the weekend I was invited out to an "open day" with the Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust by my friend Nicky. You're probably thinking, "What the heck is that?" which is precisely what I thought too. Here's a little bit about it...

The trust was initiated by Te Puke Forest and Bird and the local community in 2002. The prime objective of the Trust is to ensure the long term protection and survival of brown kiwi and all the native flora and fauna in the Otanewainuku area.

Early settlers set aside 1200 hectares of virgin bush as a protected area. Otanewainuku is home to such birds as the kereru, bell bird, grey warbler, whitehead, tomtit, tui, kokako, fantail, robin and North Island brown kiwi. Other special species include long tailed bats, gecko, skink and the rare king fern. Studies show that predators such as stoats, ferrets, dogs, rats, possums and feral cats are degrading the forest and decimating the bird population.

The kiwi population in NZ is in serious decline with 99.5% of the population now lost. Kiwi numbers plummeted from 50 in 1986 to just 5 in 2006. Thanks to the pest control operation, numbers are recovering. Research has shown that less than 5% of kiwi chicks born in the wild survive their first 6 months. Scientists have calculated that around 20% of chicks need to survive for kiwi populations to maintain themselves. 70% of chicks are killed by stoats. Adult kiwi are killed by dogs, ferrets and vehicles.

(This is Irish Brian holding up an actual kiwi egg)

A most ancient nocturnal bird, the kiwi evolved about 70 million years ago. In many ways kiwi are more like a mammal than a bird:

  • They have loose, hair-like feathers and whiskers.
  • Kiwi cannot fly but they can run fast
  • They dig burrows with their feet
  • They are the only known bird to have nostrils at the end of their bill.
  • They have a strong sense of smell which they use to find food.
  • Their life span is 35-40 years.
  • They lay huge eggs.

In 2007 four kiwi were released into Otanewainuku. Each bird is fitted with an electronic transmitter so that they can be tracked. One of the female birds was found on the side of the road a few months ago - hit by a car at night while she was feeding in the soft soil on the shoulder. It was devastating news. The project is to build a 21 hectare kiwi creche. This would give vulnerable kiwi chicks a head start in safe surroundings so they can be returned to the wild. You can help by making a donation or sponsoring the "predator fence" which they are building around the reserve which will keep new pests from entering the reserve. This fence is specially made and will cost approximately $650,000 - it is dug deep into the soil and has and electric current running through it. You can get a group together and sponsor a post (and four metres of fence) for $950.

We learned how to set traps for these predators. The objective being to eradicate them entirely and keep new ones from getting in. The Trust depends on volunteers to set traps and check them regularly. It was a lovely day for a bush walk with my good friends Nicky and her Irish husband Brian (who reminds me of a Sprite and he has nicknamed me "Pixie"). They invited their friends who have recently moved here from Holland and I invited my new housemate Karel who is from the Czech Republic. We were the United Nations! The bush walk was beautiful and we got to see some beautiful flora - the trees are magnificent and they seem to grow gardens in their branches!

The hike was up to the top of the ranges which offers spectacular views. We came prepared with sugar sustenance. Irish Brian disappeared ahead of all of us (just like the true Sprite that he is) and left us a trail of mini chocolate bars along the the path. I like hanging out with these guys.

We didn't see any kiwi birds but I'm pretty sure this was a burrow that they were likely sleeping in. I was tempted to stick my hand in there to see if I could pet one... but knowing me, I'd stick my hand into the mouth of a ferret with razor sharp teeth and lose my fingers so I just pointed.

We did manage to see two little grey robins, a kereru (NZ pigeon) and a moose.

Just kidding about the moose. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. There are no moose in New Zealand.

All in all it was a great day out. I signed up to volunteer once a month. I wouldn't mind going for a hike through native forests more often... all for the preservation of a living dinosaur - the sweet little kiwi bird.

And afterward we stopped at Irish Brian's favourite pub, "Molly's" for a pint, some potato wedges and nachos. Every Sunday should be like this!

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