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Rogan Colbourne was there at the start in
the early 1990s. Part of the Department
of Conservation research section, he
travelled down Franz Josef Glacier to
kickstart genetics work and to work out
how many kiwi were still living in the
ey found just 150 individual kiwi, and had actually
wondered if the gure could be lower.
At that point, Operation Nest Egg --- removing eggs
from the forest and hatching chicks in captivity away from
predators --- had not been used on kiwi.
ey decided to try it, but on the North Island browns, as
there were more of them if things went wrong in removing
"You have to break eggs to make omelettes," Rogan says
By the mid-1990s, they were ready to try it on the Okarito
rowi --- the rarest of all kiwi species. Initially, they had a
good hatching success rate, about 20 chicks a year, with those
rst little birds housed in safe pens near Hokitika. When
the birds were eventually returned to Okarito, they got into
territory disputes and some were beaten to death.
So DOC started taking the chicks to the predator-free
Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds. ey were left
longer to harden up, socialise, and get t so they could run
faster. ey learned to ght birds their own size --- and
Back at Okarito, the DOC team began installing cameras
in the forest to learn more about the birds. at gave them
the concrete evidence that stoats were killing them ---
something we all know now, but it was an important step
By now they knew the Okarito kiwi were genetically
di erent, thanks to tests in Canada and Victoria University.
Rogan is still with the kiwi recovery group, and has
watched the success at Okarito with interest.
From 20 chicks annually, they are now at 50 and growing
ey now have the interesting task of nding new areas
for the birds to expand into. Sub-fossil remains from Maori
midden suggest the rowi once ranged far north of Okarito.
DOC also wants to diversity the gene pool.
" ey've increased numbers quite dramatically," Rogan
says. " ey're very special."
Jonathan Crofton arrived at Franz Josef in 1989 when
there were just two DOC sta and 12 kiwi being monitored.
He watched that increase to 10 sta and a $1 million budget.
He left DOC about eight years ago but remains at the
glaciers, with an accommodation business. Sometimes at
night he can hear kiwi calls from the nearby sanctuary.
e main development in his time was the use of smart
transmitters. Until then, sta had to crawl around the bush,
trying to nd burrows and then working out if there were
e transmitters revolutionised how they worked. ey
send out signals indicating if the male bird --- the one
which incubates the eggs --- is moving or stationary.
"It was a huge thing for us," Jonathan says.
When a bird dropped from 12 hours foraging a night to
six, it was a clear sign it was sitting on an egg.
Nowadays the signals from the kiwi transmitters are
picked up by a plane which ies over the Okarito forest
every 10 to 14 days.
A spreadsheet is generated, and they can tell where the
eggs are. After 30 days, when the embryo is most stable, the
eggs are removed from the nest.
Duncan Kay also watched technology transform the
recovery programme, freeing up resources, in his eight years
at Franz Josef.
When he started there in 2006, they had to crawl around
the bush, peering in holes, looking for eggs. Apart from
being hard work and time consuming, it disturbed the birds,
which were asleep during the day.
"We thought, 'there's got to be a better way.'"
With the help of a New Zealand company Wildtech,
DOC began looking at transmitters. ey were tried rst in
Hawke's Bay before being introduced to South Westland.
"We used the same resources but did a lot more with it. We
went from monitoring about 20 pairs, to up to 65," Duncan
"In all honesty, it saved the species. Before that, we couldn't
do enough to recover that species.
"People were working incredibly hard and it was an
extremely dedicated team. We just couldn't do enough. If it
wasn't for the technology ..."
ese days Duncan works for Zero Invasive Predators. He
hopes one day the Okarito rowi can live in a forest free of
predators, left to do what birds do.
" e day they take the transmitters o will be an amazing
Last October, 52 kiwi were released back into Okarito
forest, and 15 of those that are monitored are still alive.
One, which was not monitored, was found dead on the
North Okarito Road.
"It had been hit by a car, which was a real shame,"
biodiversity ranger Tracey Dearlove said.
e most recent breeding season produced 60 chicks ---
"by far our best year yet" --- and this year sta are watching
an additional 14 potential pairs, including some that started
out as Operation Nest Egg chicks, and have now reached
By late September, ve fertile eggs had already been
is year's kiwi recovery team is manager Jo Macpherson,
one senior ranger, three other full-time rangers and one
seasonal ranger, aided by university students and volunteers.
Tracey says the look on people's faces when they see a kiwi
for the rst time helps motivate her in the job.
" e smiles, laughs and sometimes tears are pretty priceless,
and I feel hugely privileged to be able to give people this
opportunity to connect with our national icon.
"Itcanbe wetandabitofabattle somedays,buton a
whole it is a beautiful, peaceful place to work --- you can't
beat the spectacular view from ree Mile (south of Okarito)
on a clear day.
"And once you start tracking into a burrow it's a little bit
like a new puzzle each time, trying to gure out the best way
to get there, where you think the burrow might be and then
how to get the bird or egg out, so you generally forget you
are soaking wet and tangled in supplejack!"
And things are looking good.
" e future for rowi recovery is certainly looking bright,"
Chris Rickard heads by boat to the Okarito forest, searching for kiwi.
Iain Graham, with dog Rein, as a kiwi is returned to the Okarito forest.
Twenty- ve years ago, the diminutive Okarito kiwi (rowi) was teetering on the
brink of extinction. Department of Conservation sta , desperate to stem the
decline, crawled through wet, tangled bush trying to extract eggs before the stoats
got them. en they came up with the idea of using tracking transmitters. Against
the odds, the rowi have bounced back, thanks to a lot of hard work, dedication
and technology. LAURA MILLS caught up with those involved in this real
conservation success story. the kiwi
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