A new hospital about to open in the Bay of Islands is a medical facility with a difference, because it has been built to cater for our feathered national icon.
The kiwi hospital has been built in rural Kerikeri by conservation group Kiwi Coast to meet a growing need.
Kiwi numbers are on the rise in areas where community groups are carrying out intensive pest control.
While that was welcome news, it also meant more kiwi were out and about each night, where they can be hit by cars, attacked by dogs, or suffer misadventures such as falling into ponds.
Kiwi Coast coordinator Andrew Mentor said injured kiwi were currently taken to the Bird Recovery Centre in Whangārei for treatment and recovery.
The centre did an excellent job, but the hour-plus travel time each way created extra stress for already ailing patients.
Mentor said the new facility had been built on land provided by a local farmer, in cooperation with Puketotara Landcare and local hapū Te Whiu.
It has nine pens, each with a nesting box and native ferns and grasses, and a clinic with three brood boxes for quarantine and intensive care.
“We anticipate receiving kiwi here due to drought and climate change, or birds that have been attacked by a dog or feral cat, and have survived that. We can stabilise them and bring them here for recovery.”
Car strike was another likely cause of admission, especially where the birds lived in built-up areas around the Bay of Islands.
A kiwi in the pool filter
Mentor said the hospital was not yet officially open, but it seemed one young kiwi could not wait to try it out.
The bird had been exploring its territory at Opito Bay near Kerikeri, when it managed to squeeze through a fence and fall into a swimming pool filter.
The kiwi was discovered near death the following morning by a builder working at a nearby house site.
He rescued the bird, kept it warm and called a local conservation group, who took the kiwi to a vet and alerted Kiwi Coast.
The kiwi spent a few days in hospital before it was deemed ready to be returned to the wild.
Mentor said the roughly six-month-old bird showed no signs of dehydration, so it was not looking for water when it had its misadventure.
It was also a good weight – 1.3kg – which meant it was finding plenty of food and was big enough to fend off stoats, a major threat to young kiwi.
It was released back into the bush at Opito Bay by Northland Regional Council biodiversity officer Bernie Buhler.
Buhler said a dedicated kiwi hospital in the Bay of Islands was badly needed.
“For a long time we’ve had to take the kiwi down to Whangārei, to the Bird Recovery Centre. It’s a really good place, but it’s a long way to travel, and a long way to travel back. It stresses the birds. It’s not good for them, so it’s absolutely magic to have a kiwi rehab in the Bay of Islands.”
‘This is a stronghold for kiwi’
Having a local facility also meant rescuers and local conservation groups can be more involved in the birds’ recovery and return to the wild, Buhler said.
“This is a stronghold for kiwi. They’re probably going to get more and more kiwi, they’re going to have more and more incidents, so they’re going to need somewhere to rehabilitate them.”
Also taking part in the release were members of the Kerikeri Peninsula Conservation Trust, who carry out intensive pest control in the Opito Bay area and took the initial call about the kiwi stuck in the pool filter.
Mentor was delighted by the bird’s recovery and return to its natural home.
“To see that kiwi released back into the wild is just magic. It’s so pleasing and gratifying to see all the hard work come to fruition in looking after our precious little kiwi.”
But the release was bittersweet, because just hours earlier a kiwi had been found mauled to death by a wandering dog at Puketotara, west of Kerikeri.
Mentor pleaded with dog owners to keep their pets contained on their properties, especially at night.
The Opito Bay incident was also a reminder of the importance of making sure pool fences were not just child-proof but also kiwi-proof.
Kiwi could not swim so falling into a swimming pool was usually fatal.
The Opito Bay kiwi survived because its head was above water, but it couldn’t get out and was hypothermic when found.
Kiwi could also drown in ponds or cattle troughs, so it was a good idea to place a few concrete blocks in the water so any kiwi that fell in were able to climb out.
The kiwi hospital will be officially opened and named by local hapū Te Whiu on 23 February.
Anyone who finds a sick or injured kiwi should call the 24-hour conservation hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) in the first instance.