Every kiwi chick is taonga at Rotorua’s National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa which reopened to manuhiri (visitors) on September 26 in time for both the school holidays and to celebrate the hatching of its first chick of the season. The Ngāi Tahu Tourism-owned hatchery has been closed to manuhiri since the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in March.
The National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa in Rotorua plays a vital role in saving our precious national bird. The facility incubates kiwi eggs and hatches chicks to save them from being eaten by predators in the wild. Out of every 100 kiwi eggs laid in burrows in the forest, only five kiwi chicks will make it to adulthood. By hatching kiwi and keeping them safe when they are most vulnerable, it increases their survival to 65 percent when released in a stoat-proof location.
The hatchery reopened last weekend thanks to funding from the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme. The funding will be provided over 12 months.
Mike Pohio, chief executive of Ngāi Tahu Holdings, Ngāi Tahu Tourism's parent company, says the team is excited about the reopening which fittingly coincided with the season's first kiwi chick hatching, a double celebration.
“It's great to be back supporting Rotorua, a town that is deeply important to us. Covid-19 has had a big impact on the city's tourism and, therefore, economy, so we are very pleased to be playing our part in helping it recover,” says Mike.
“We know New Zealanders are looking for new experiences, so having the hatchery open for the school holidays is a real bonus.”
After incubating for about 78 days, the first chick of the season hatched on September 21. Weighing 338 grams, the chick emerged with one white eyebrow, which is unusual but not unheard of. It is not yet known if it is male or female as kiwi do not have any “external features” to help provide that information — so feather DNA testing is the only way to know for sure.
Hatchery kaimahi (staff) are asking the public for help with the momentous task of naming the chick. The winning suggestion will receive a family pass to the hatchery. Details of the competition are on the National Kiwi Hatchery Facebook page.
The hatchery is a leader in kiwi husbandry, egg incubation systems, hatching techniques and kiwi chick-rearing. Each year it incubates and hatches around 100 kiwi chicks, with 125 hatched last season. Of those 125 chicks, only six would have survived if they had been left in the wild.
Visitors to the hatchery get a behind-the-scenes tour of operations — a unique experience from a team proud of the contribution they make to the kiwi-breeding programme.
Not only can people view the hatchery programme, but they also learn about the operations at the kiwi hospital facility where sick and injured kiwi are brought in from the wild. Dogs, possum traps and cars can hurt kiwi.
The hatchery has an intensive care unit where injured kiwi receive expert care to heal and recuperate. They have professional husbandry staff for kiwi rehabilitation and can call on expert veterinary assistance for injuries involving surgery.
The worst predator for kiwi chicks are stoats. Adult kiwi are strong and can defend themselves against stoats but chicks need to grow to 1kg in weight before they can fight off a stoat. It takes about five months of feeding to reach a “stoat-proof” weight. Once a kiwi chick has grown to the magic 1kg, it is transported back to its home forest and released into the wild — a healthy juvenile kiwi to help save the species.
The National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa, launched in 2008 as the National Kiwi Recovery Trust, is the only facility hatching eastern brown kiwi, which are classified as “at risk and declining” by the Department of Conservation.
The hatchery has grown to become the largest and most successful kiwi hatching facility in the world, successfully incubating and hatching brown kiwi eggs from 15 sanctuaries and reserves in the North Island. Their work has helped the population of brown kiwi considerably and has provided an ideal facility for the continuation of research into kiwi eggs and chicks.
Last season, 72 percent of all brown kiwi hatched ex-situ nationwide came from the hatchery.
Hatchery manager Tumu Kaitiaki Kiwi Emma Bean says: “Since 1995 we have successfully hatched 2048 kiwi chicks with an average hatch success rate of more than 95 percent.
“We see each chick as taonga (treasure), vitally important in the battle for the survival of the species,” says Emma.