Taranaki Kōhanga Kiwi at Rotokare Project
A kiwi breeding partnership
In 2012 members of the Taranaki Kiwi Trust (TKT) and Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust (RSRT) pooled their resources to form the Taranaki Kōhanga Kiwi at Rotokare project (TKKR). The partnerships goal was to establish a genetically diverse breeding population of kiwi to repopulate Taranaki and the wider natural range of western brown kiwi. The Rotokare Sanctuary became the home for this kiwi population. The pest-proof fence surrounding the 230ha site ensured the kiwi would be safe from predators and the forested hill-country catchment, which includes an extensive wetland environment and a 17.8ha natural lake, was a perfect habitat for kiwi. TKT had a rich knowledge of kiwi in Taranaki and provided the important kiwi expertise and experience and by joining forces the two trusts pooled their kiwi handlers and wildlife management skills to great effect.
Nine years later the partnership has established a bona fide kiwi Kōhanga, nursery and breeding site. Thirty-seven founder birds have been released into the site over the years. Most are the result of Operation Nest Egg, where wild eggs are uplifted from the nest and incubated at a hatchery, the chick then released. The success of the breeding programme is evident – kiwi are abundant within the Kōhanga, so great in fact that the estimated population is now thought to be over 200, and the original goal to export kiwi out of the kōhanga has been realised.
In June 2020 the first 10 kiwi were translocated from the Kōhanga. TKKR in partnership with South Taranaki Forest and Bird released birds into a site known as the Totara Block (a privately owned site near the Kōhanga). The property has been managed by STF&B since the early 70’s and is trapped extensively, as is some 4500 ha across adjacent properties as part of the RSRT halo project. A safe environment for re-establishing a kiwi population has been decades in the making and sets the benchmark and a new direction for kiwi conservation in Taranaki. Birds were also re-homed in the Waikato’s Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, also a predator free fenced sanctuary. In 2021 a further 50 birds were released to four sites – the Totara Block, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, the Kaitake Ranges, and the main cone of Taranaki Mounga.
A group of around twenty staff and volunteers from both organisations and STF&B are highly engaged in monitoring and caring for the birds at both the Kōhanga and the Totara Block. There are ten accredited kiwi handlers in the team and the project is overseen by a part time kiwi ranger. The partnership works constantly to upskill their team, develop methodology and standard operating procedures, and the Kōhanga has proven to be a very effective way of breeding kiwi to increase populations elsewhere.