Restoring our national icon to the backyard of our capital city
“I would love to be woken up by the sound of the kiwi. We want to see kiwi come back into Wellington…”
Justin Lester, Wellington Mayor
For millions of years the only kiwi in Wellington were… kiwi
But the feisty flightless birds with the chop-stick bill have been absent from Wellington for over a century, unable to survive habitat loss and the suite of predators introduced by the people who're named after them.
Most New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi in the wild, and if they have had an encounter, it's likely to have been in a zoo nocturnal house or sanctuary.
Kiwi are central to our sense of identity, with Māori myth and settler backstories. They're emblematic of the otherworldly evolutionary path that the long isolation of Aotearoa has enabled. They look as though they were dreamt up by Dr Seuss. Like us, they're just a bit different: the dad incubates the over-sized egg, their feathers are like fur… and despite the running style, they're Beauden Barrett-fast on the ground.
Being kiwi defines us: it's how the rest of the world knows us and it symbolises everything from national flag options (laser kiwi!) to our defence force, sports teams and money. Our rugby league team is the Kiwis, NBA star Stephen Adams boasts, "I am just a Kiwi". The flightless bird is the symbol of our air force (which is a bit cheeky, but that's how us Kiwi roll).
“Wellington is leading the way with urban community conservation and returning kiwi to the wild would be the ultimate reward.”
Jessi Morgan, Morgan Foundation
Wellington has become a front-running biodiversity hotspot
Off the back of pioneering urban conservation efforts like Zealandia Ecosanctuary and council pest control programmes, Wellingtonions have embraced their returning avian originals as part of city life: mountain bikers check reserve trap lines on lunchtime rides and kids monitor tracking tunnels at school.
Crofton Downs was New Zealand’s first suburb that set out to be predator free, and inspired a string of others to follow suit in backyard trapping, from Karori to Khandallah, Makara to Miramar.
“Go Wellington, you’re showing the rest of the country what can be done”
Facebook comment on the news of tīeke/saddleback nesting in Polhill Reserve
2018 is National Geographic’s Year of the Bird. They launched it with a visit to Wellington: “Zealandia, Polhill, and similar efforts have inspired New Zealand’s political leadership to announce a lofty goal: Ridding their entire country of rats, stoats, and possums by 2050. The “Predator Free 2050” campaign is extremely ambitious, according to most ecologists, but it seems to have captured the kiwi imagination. Families across the country have taken up trapping as a civic and environmentally minded hobby.”
— Emma Marris, National Geographic
The spillover 'halo' is still tenuous but its effects are palpable. Kārearea (NZ falcon) are lunching on pigeon in city parks, kākā are breeding behind Garage Project Brewery and kererū have returned to Miramar and Melrose backyards. But the special 'k' is kiwi. By 2025 imagine kiwi wandering around beneath the Brooklyn Wind Turbine, or probing around Mt. Kaukau: with tourists posting of their encounters, and locals beaming with pride at their iconic manu mate.
The project area is 20,000ha in total. It encompasses the southwestern corner of the North Island from Porirua southwards: including the steep, scrubby hillsides of Te Kopahou and Makara Peak, and big blocks like the Terawhiti farm stations, Kinnoull and the Meridian wind farms.
The land use ranges from working farm to reserve, and has been vetted by kiwi recovery managers and scientists as suitable habitat for kiwi.
In order to bring back the kiwi, we need to focus on pest eradication and kiwi care.
The biggest issue for kiwi is mustelid predation off the nest: The majority of depredation happens once the chicks hatch and are free roaming in the first six months of their lives. Kiwi under a kilogram in weight i.e. below six months of age, are unable to effectively defend themselves from stoats; without intervention less than 6% of chicks survive to breed.
But once they're adults kiwi have a fend like Sonny Bill and can take on most challengers (except dogs). To eradicate stoats requires roughly one trap per five hectares. Eradication will be achieved via a mix of single set DOC series and Goodnature self-resetting traps providing constant control.
Mustelids (stoats, ferrets, weasels) are the primary target of this project.
The pest eradication plan across the landscape is being led by Darren Peters, Department of Conservation National Predator Control Officer, in collaboration with councils, communities and landowners. Peters has been involved at the cutting edge of predator control for many years, and has worked on kiwi recovery programmes from Te Urewera to Taranaki, Remutaka to Rakiura.
“The plan will be comprehensive and locally inclusive: mustelid (ferret/stoat) focused to start, moving to core area rat control as we get our sustained systems in place, including working together with each community to incorporate their pest control vision.”
We need controlled dogs on private land, and dogs on leads in and around reserves where kiwi and pets intersect. Kiwi live alongside people in many NZ places where New Zealanders have determined to look after their namesake, from Whakatane to Coromandel to Northland. Ex-Wellington SPCA chief executive Steve Glassey is supportive: "Promoting responsible pet ownership not only improves animal welfare in our community, it helps with conservation efforts like this – everyone wins."
Local reference: on the back of community-driven predator control, the Remutaka Forest Park Trust reintroduced a dozen brown kiwi in 2006 into a 1000ha area. Now there is a population of over 130 kiwi, following a programme of community cultural change to work with local hunters and dog-owners. Residents of Sunny Grove in Wainuiomata get their own goodnight kiwi chorus.
Capital Kiwi will work inclusively with community groups, councils, Predator Free Wellington, SPCA, dog training clubs, and Department of Conservation on awareness in areas closer to city. If Wellington can postpone the fireworks for Matariki the whale, we can care for kiwi.
Discussion with DOC kiwi scientists and managers has indicated support for kiwi translocation should the requirements for mustelid control be met across a three year period. Capital Kiwi will continue to work with the Kiwi Recovery Group throughout this project (research, planning, decision making) towards translocation.
The groundwork has started via existing pest control programmes. Many rural properties and reserves are already managed with trapping regimes (many, like Otari-Wilton, Makara Peak, Mt Kaukau, Polhill and Huntleigh, are community led). Zealandia is also a key conservation player in this area, and has a programme to extend a safe awa habitat to the sea, with a strong education component.
There is a community will for looking after our native taonga, engendered by the experience of the Zealandia spillover and sustained council and volunteer pest control. In a 2012 Victoria University research survey, over 80% of respondents thought native birds ought to be in the city: charmed by the tūī jazz fest and the kākā circus that has come to town.
Capital Kiwi will extend the community engagement models demonstrated in award-winning projects like Polhill Protectors (Supreme Award-winner at 2017 Wellington Airport Wellington City Community Awards), and Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park, where legions of mountain bikers and trail runners plant trees, and check trap lines; and of course, the burgeoning citywide backyard trapping network.
Predator Free Karori has recently launched and has over 1,000 rat traps deployed in less than six months in one of NZ’s largest suburbs. Karori is in the projected spillover zone of Capital Kiwi.
“Engaging our community to help so many of our precious native species is an absolute privilege. Previously the thought of bringing kiwi to the wild in our backyard would have been something we could have only dreamed of. Capital Kiwi is now making this a reality. We are so excited to be a part of this transformational project!”
Kate Fitzgerald, Predator Free Karori
Capital Kiwi has been received enthusiastically by Ohariu and Makara, western suburbs’ and wider Wellington predator free communities, and will work together with these groups, supporting and supplementing their mahi.
The knock-on biodiversity effects and social capital will be significant in an area around the same size as Abel Tasman National Park.
The Capital Kiwi project has been socialised with all major stakeholders: community groups, Wellington City council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Department of Conservation, Kiwis for Kiwi, Predator Free Wellington, The Morgan Foundation, iwi (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Toa), Transpower, Meridian, and major landowners. Support from all was secured by end of 2017, with the biggest landowner (Terawhiti Station) secured and motivated.
This represents an arguably unprecedented collective conservation consensus in the wider Wellington region, spanning community, government agencies, iwi, conservationists, public and private stakeholders.
Capital Kiwi is community-led: this has enabled us to establish relationships with private landowners who are enthused about the goal and keen to help Wellington become pest free.
“GWRC believes there exists a groundswell of support in the city for this venture. CK are in a unique position to build on this capacity, and galvanise rural occupiers to join this inspirational journey.”
Wayne O’Donnell, General Manager Catchment Management Group, Greater Wellington Regional Council
“As a passionate Wellingtonian I am sincerely excited about the prospect of bringing back kiwi to the capital. Let’s get the kiwi out there mate!”
Michael Grace, Te Kamaru Station
“Meridian is excited to endorse this Capital Kiwi project. We believe this is a fantastic opportunity to return our national icon to Wellington’s backyard”
Guy Waipara, General Manager, Generation and Natural Resources, Meridian Energy Limited
“Nau mai tenei kaupapa whakahirahira, hoki mai ai nga taonga ki tenei takiwa. Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o te Ika - representing Iwi-Manawhenua of Wellington and the Hutt Valley is absolutely committed to seeing the Capital Kiwi project being not only a NZ legacy - it can be a global example. Where future generations of Wellingtonians, New Zealand visitors and global tourists experience an environment where our native Kiwi openly reside.”
Wayne Mulligan, Chair - Taranaki Whānui ki te Ūpoko o te Ika
Capital Kiwi has received an enabling grant from Wellington Community Trust.
“The Wellington Community Trust has a long history of funding initiatives that engage the community. We loved that community is at the manawa (heart) of Capital Kiwi’s work which is why we wanted to support this project that will have a significant legacy for the Wellington region”
Roger Palairet, Wellington Community Trust Chairperson.
Capital Kiwi was registered as a charitable trust in July 2018. The project works in close partnership with Predator Free Wellington. Predator Free Wellington is a collaboration between the NEXT Foundation, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council; working with communities to progressively rid the city of rats, stoats and possums: “turning the dawn chorus into a symphony”.
While Predator Free Wellington embarks on an eradication programme on the Miramar Peninsula, Capital Kiwi will complement its work west and south of the city, tackling introduced predators, primarily stoats, to enable kiwi to return to the city’s hillsides. Kiwi will be a motivating touchstone towards the world’s first predator free capital.
On 8 August 2018 Predator Free 2050 Limited announced their support for Predator Free Wellington and Capital Kiwi, committing a $3.275m grant to a combined project cost over five years of $11.1 million.
“Wellington has generated front-running enthusiasm and involvement in its predator-free future. Tūī, kākā, kererū are returning to city suburbs. Adding kiwi to the mix will create something very, very special.”
Ed Chignell, Chief Executive, Predator Free 2050 Limited.
If there is any landscape in Aotearoa’s conservation jigsaw that ticks the ‘peoplescape’ box it’s Wellington. By targeting the eradication of key pests, Capital Kiwi and Predator Free Wellington are helping bringing back manu taonga to live, work and play alongside over 250,000 people, with our national symbol as the ultimate predator free koha.
What does success look like? Kiwi heard from Karori backyards, beneath the Brooklyn Wind Turbine and ultimately… nesting on the slopes of Te Ahumairangi behind The Beehive alongside kārearea and kākā, keeping the politicians honest.
“One of the challenges of kiwi conservation is getting people to understand and care about something they can’t see and don’t experience. Kiwi are nocturnal and, with rare exception, live removed from our urban populations. Bringing kiwi closer to where Kiwis live makes them top of mind, completely relevant, and creates a sense of ownership with those who are privileged enough to have them living on or near their land.”
“I believe this is what Capital Kiwi will do – they are bringing the kiwi back to the people. It will create ownership and a city of kiwi conservationists who now have a more meaningful and real personal attachment to their national bird because it now lives where they live and work.”
Michelle Impey, Kiwis for Kiwi
The call to bring kiwi back to the wild in Wellington is an achievable touchstone for a modern city forging a positive relationship with its native taonga.
The resurgent tūī, kākā and tīeke in Wellington represent the possibility of people, pets and natives getting on. It's not pie in the sky, it's kiwi on our whenua.