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'Unbirdlike' bird surviving by community efforts


'Unbirdlike' bird surviving thanks to community efforts

It's a famous name, distinctive shape and metaphor for nationality, but until recently kiwi in the wild were in decline.

Now thousands of New Zealanders are working resolutely to save the bird.

In a new book, Kiwi: The People's Bird, leading natural history writer Neville Peat tells the story of the nation-wide community efforts to protect this remarkable creature, and explores its biological oddities and symbolic status.

Peat has been following the kiwi's fortunes for twenty years, working in the field with scientists and writing two previous books on the bird. 'Researching the world of the kiwi in the late 1980s, I encountered an atmosphere of despair. For all its toughness the kiwi appeared to be a dying breed. Doing fieldwork for this book was an entirely different experience,' says Peat.

'The bird is only avoiding extinction through human intervention at the eleventh hour. Community support for the North Island Brown Kiwi is nothing short of a mass movement. Many projects may appear modest in scale and effort, but, taken as a whole, they add up to an outpouring of support for a single species on a scale not before seen in New Zealand.'

This 'people power' includes thousands of volunteers and is backed by tens of millions of dollars in private funding, plus millions more channelled through government sources. Efforts are also being made by organisations such as the Bank of New Zealand Save the Kiwi Trust and the Department of Conservation, and through captive breeding schemes involving places like the Auckland Zoo and Rainbow Springs Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua.

'Through the drive to protect mainland kiwi, several thousand people have been able to hear and perhaps see a kiwi in the wild for the first time,' says Peat.

With its strange characteristics, the kiwi is an extraordinary sight. It is arguably the world's most unbirdlike bird - features such as long whiskers, hair-like plumage and a strong sense of smell have led it to be called an 'honorary mammal'.

For decades it was thought there were just three species of kiwi - brown, great spotted and little spotted. Now, through advances in DNA profiling, there are eleven recognised kinds of kiwi in five species - three brown and two spotted - and more may yet be uncovered. Sizes vary from the 25cm little spotted kiwi, to the great spotted and brown kiwi which are as large as 45cm tall.

Rich in information and profusely illustrated, Kiwi: The People's Bird is published by Otago University Press.

Neville Peat has written many books on New Zealand natural history and other subjects, including the prize-winning Wild series with Brian Patrick. His most recent book is Hurricane Tim: The Story of Sir Tim Wallis.

Publication details

Kiwi: The People's Bird by Neville Peat
Release: 7 December 2006. RRP $45.00


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