Last week, my son Jack and I were lucky enough to meet an iconic Coromandel resident, Rehua the kiwi.
We headed up to Port Charles very early one morning in the school holidays to meet two Moehau Environment Group (MEG) volunteers, Natalie and Tommy. We were going to watch them do some essential work: checking an egg that Rehua was sitting on and ensuring his transmitter was still firmly attached.
Tommy had his kiwi-trained dog with him that we used to find the kiwi burrow and we quietly followed them both along a ridge and then down a steep incline into the bush.
Using hand signals Tommy got us to sit absolutely still while he very gently felt into the burrow to see if the egg was a viable one (kiwi eggs in the wild have such a low rate of successful hatching that the eggs are now taken down to Rotorua to be hatched and the youngsters are brought back when they are big enough to fight off predators). Unfortunately, the egg wasn’t viable – because it was a rock! Apparently this is relatively common; the urge to sit is strong, but we all felt sorry for Rehua who had so patiently been sitting for 60 days on a rock!
Whilst Tommy checked Rehua’s transmittor, we were allowed to help by holding him. Kiwi’s claws are the most dangerous bit of them, and we had a good look at his ‘dinosaur’ feet as we held him firmly by his ankles in one hand and supported his back with the other. He was very sleepy and kept nodding off in our arms. His feathers were beautiful and he had whiskers around his long and sensitive beak.
When it was time to say goodbye, we watched him scurry off into the bush to find another burrow (apparently a single kiwi can have many burrows ranged over its territory), and we hope he has better luck with his next mate. Kiwi numbers in this area have been decimated by an out-of-control dog; predators (dogs, rats, etc.) are the main threat to kiwi.
Having this once-in-a-lifetime experience felt a bit like meeting something mythological – a mermaid or a dragon. But we are lucky enough to live in a time when wild kiwi still live on this Peninsula and now they have two more supporters who are keen to ensure that it stays that way.