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Kiwi Saver Hits the Mark

Kiwi Saver Hits the Mark

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Media Release 1 May 2008

Kiwi Saver Hits the Mark

Smart sensors that monitor kiwi behaviour in the bush are revolutionising efforts to track breeding birds and improving survival rates for chicks.

The innovative electronic ‘egg timers’ developed by Havelock North company Wildtech and the Department of Conservation are cutting the time needed for kiwi monitoring by up to a half in many kiwi projects, and delivering savings of around $160,000 for every 100 kiwi monitored.

The timers accurately read how long a kiwi has been incubating an egg, meaning workers know exactly when to pick them up for safe hatching in incubators at facilities like Rotorua’s Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs.

Wildtech has gone on to develop ‘chick timers’ which have recently been successfully trialled by DOC on the Coromandel Peninsula. Signals sent by the new device indicate when a chick has hatched so rangers know when to visit a nest to attach transmitters to the newborns or uplift them for raising in predator-free kiwi crèches.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology provided funding to help with the research and development as did the Environment, Conservation & Outdoor Education Trust in Hawke’s Bay, and DOC.

Foundation central regional manager Chris Litten says: “A relatively small number of research dollars, $40,000, together with innovative thinking from Wildtech, has delivered big rewards in the drive to ensure a healthy population of our national icon. This is a fantastic return on the Foundation’s investment.”

Alastair Bramley, a former outdoor education instructor and a director of Wildtech, became passionate about the plight of the North Island brown kiwi after voluntarily accompanying DOC staff on monitoring trips into the Kaweka Ranges five years ago.

Male kiwi have been fitted with transmitters for some years but previous tracking techniques were time consuming and relied on educated guesses, says Mr Bramley.

“Workers would go into the bush every two weeks and monitor the birds at close range to determine when a male kiwi was beginning to sit on the nest, in order to work out the optimum time to pick up eggs. They’d return around 60 days into the 80 day incubation period, find the nest, monitor it and recover the eggs when the male got off the nest to feed.

“The labour input was huge and sometimes we got it wrong.”

A chance meeting through Playcentre with Wildtech’s other director, John Wilks, led to the two experimenting in a garage with improved technology based on understanding kiwi behaviour. They worked closely with Dr John McLennan, a leading kiwi ecologist who also lives in Havelock North.

“The key was identifying the step change that indicates nesting which is when the male bird begins to spend a lot more time in the nest. We developed an intelligence of the activity sensor so that it could be used to distinguish different behaviours and alert us to those changes,” says Mr Bramley.

The transmitters the birds wear weigh just 25 grams and can be monitored from as far away as five kilometres, eliminating the need to monitor kiwi from close range.

DOC trialled Wildtech’s smart transmitters two years ago and ‘egg timer’ transmitters have now become the standard technology in the field. DOC has also ensured widespread access to the new transmitters by owning the license for general use in New Zealand.

“I wouldn’t use anything else now,” says Jason Roxburgh, DOC’s Coromandel Kiwi Sanctuary Manager. “My team was run ragged by the demands of monitoring using the old techniques.”

Mr Roxburgh’s team has also recently trialled Wildtech’s new ‘chick timers’ which he describes as ‘another massive leap forward’. “We attach transmitters to kiwi chicks so we can monitor their survival rates and evaluate the success of our predator control programme.

“The chick timers tell us precisely when the egg has hatched. This means we hassle the birds less as a result and reduce the risk of the male bird abandoning the nest if he knows it’s been disturbed.

“It’s a time saver, a morale booster and reduces the risks associated with having staff working in rugged terrain at night.”

In the Kawekas, the Environment, Conservation & Outdoor Education Trust is using the chick timers to remove kiwi chicks from the nest when they are 10 to 20 days old and take them to the Pan Pac Kiwi Creche at Opouahi Scenic Reserve in northern Hawke’s Bay. Alastair Bramley says they are returned to their natural environment at around four to five months of age, when the risk of being killed by stoats is lower.

“We are letting the natural process run its course as much as possible and giving the kiwi chicks the benefit of whatever parenting happens in the first couple of weeks. It’s not a long term solution but it’s helping to build kiwi numbers fast,” he says.

The trust has so far re-introduced 86 kiwi into the Kaweka Ranges.

Wildtech’s smart transmitters have also been adapted for use in DOC programmes aimed at saving the endangered Rowi and Haast Tokoeka kiwi in the South Island. Mr Bramley says modifications have been made to dovetail the technology with different behaviour among species of kiwi.

The Bank of New Zealand Save the Kiwi Trust Executive Director Michelle Impey says devices like those developed by Wildtech are crucial to kiwi recovery.

“The strategies we have been using are slowing the decline but that’s not good enough. We have to work smarter and faster over the next 10 years to actually reverse the trend. New technologies will be central to the success of that goal.”

Photo caption: A North Island brown kiwi with a transmitter, sitting on Alastair
Bramley's lap.


About the Foundation: The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology invests over $460 million a year on behalf of the New Zealand Government, in research, science and technology. These investments are made to enhance the wealth and well being of New Zealanders.


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