The Flightless Kiwi Of New Zealand

All about the Kiwi and its home and habitat.

The New Zealand ecosystem is home to a multitude of animal species. While some are commonly found throughout the world, some are uniquely New Zealand. The Kiwi is an example of this. The New Zealanders’ attachment to Kiwis is something that goes a long way back. Today, whenever a New Zealander goes abroad, when someone asks for his nationality, he would likely say, “I am a Kiwi”. Not only is the Kiwi a unique species, it is also the national icon for New Zealanders across the globe.

Sadly, this long term love affair between New Zealanders and Kiwis might just one day come to an end.

Today, the Kiwi is on the brink of extinction. The Kiwi is listed as an endangered species and is protected by the New Zealand law. There are generally five accepted species of the Kiwi Bird. These are namely Great Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx owenii), the Little Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx rowi), the Okarito Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis), and the Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli).The largest Kiwi species is the Brown Kiwi while the smallest one is the Little Spotted Kiwi. The Kiwis are spread across the North and South Island of New Zealand.

Despite being only as big as a farm chicken, Kiwis are actually distant relatives to the Ostrich, the Australian Emu and the extinct New Zealand Moa. The Kiwi is a flightless species. One of the reasons for their inability to fly is the construction of their feathers. They have very loose, hair like feathers. This inability to fly is also one of the contributing factors in the dwindling amount of the Kiwi as a species. Before humans settled down in New Zealand, the Kiwi did not have any natural predators. As a result, the number of Kiwis was very large. However when the Maoris came and settled the land, they began hunting Kiwis for its feather. Although this did reduce the number of the New Zealand Kiwi population a bit, the impact was not as bad as compared to when Europeans began to settle in New Zealand.

The Europeans came in with their dogs and cats. They also introduced possums for possum fur farming. These newly introduced species began to prey on the Kiwis. Being flightless birds, they nest in burrows that they dig underground. This increases their vulnerability to the introduced predators. Chicks are usually killed by stoats and cats while the adult Kiwis are usually mauled by dogs. The impact of these introduced species has been so great. Today, it is estimated that there is less than 50,000 Kiwis left in the wilderness.

In order to prevent the Kiwis from going further into extinction, the New Zealand government, with cooperation from private bodies and the scientific community have undertaken many measures to protect the species. Among the measures that are taken is to breed Kiwis in captivity. Once they reach maturity, they are released into the wild. Besides this, the Department of Conservation is also actively advocating possum hunting to reduce the number of Kiwi predators in the wild. 

The Kiwis are now in a tight spot. They have been pushed to the verge of extinction by human activity on the land. Without proper conservation activity, New Zealand might one day loose its national identity. The land of the Kiwi might one day just become “Kiwi-less"

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Val Mills
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Posted on Feb 12, 2010