It’s a fact well-known that most countries have a national animal. America has the bald-eagle, Belgium has the lion, China has a giant panda and India has the Bengal tiger; impressive, fearsome and striking animals all. But New Zealand’s beloved national animal isn’t really any of those things. The uniqueness of the shy and flightless kiwi however, strikes a proud chord with New Zealanders. So much so our national identity is virtually forged upon it; it’s a rare New Zealander who doesn’t refer to themselves both at home and overseas as a Kiwi!
There’s much to love and appreciate about this adorable bird which carved a special place for itself in a land once inhabited almost entirely by predatory, flightless and unique birds. Many of the larger, predatory birds were hunted to extinction and other species were extinguished with the introduction of foreign predators, but the beloved Kiwi has clung on, even as some of its five species currently still remain critically endangered.
Endemic to New Zealand, the kiwi is often referred to as an honorary mammal as their spot in the ecosystem, if it were elsewhere in the world, would likely be filled by a mammal. Given this is the case, kiwi have adapted to now possess several mammal characteristics. They have feathers like hair, nostrils at the end of their beaks and their body temperature is cooler than birds and closer to mammal range. Unlike most birds, which have one ovary, a female kiwi has two, just like a mammal. The kiwi chick emerges from an enormous egg as a mini-adult, fully feathered and able to feed itself, which is also very unusual for a bird.
The kiwi is part of a group of largely flightless birds called ratites, which also includes emus, ostriches and the now extinct New Zealand moa. As mentioned earlier, there are five species of kiwi remaining; the brown kiwi, great spotted kiwi, little spotted kiwi, tokoeka and rowi. While all the brown kiwi live in the North Island, others can be found in the South Island or on offshore islands such as Kapiti Island or Stewart Island.
Encountering a kiwi in the wild is difficult given they are rare, nocturnal and live in remote forest areas. It’s truly an unforgettable experience for those who do manage a wild sighting. Luckily, for those of you keen to get up close to a kiwi, there are a number of easier options. Most city zoos have kiwi in captivity in nocturnal houses and there are also several other kiwi houses around the country, such as Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, the Otorohanga Kiwi House, the West Coast Wild Life Centre near Franz Josef and Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre.
For those keen to see kiwi in their natural habitat, Wellington has the world-class bird conservation sanctuary, Zealandia which offers night tours to spot kiwi in their natural habitat. There are also five Department of Conservation bird sanctuaries where kiwi can be observed outside. These sanctuaries are: The Whangarei Kiwi Sanctuary in Northland, The Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary in the Coromandel, Tongariro Forest Kiwi Sanctuary, Ruapehu, The Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, West Coast and The Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary on the South West Coast.
For other options to see kiwi in their natural environments and on their terms you could visit Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, an ecological pest-free ‘island’ in the North Island or take a night tours in Okarito on the West Coast of the South Island with Okarito Kiwi Tours. Kiwi are found in good numbers on Kapiti Island, just off the coast above Wellington. Overnight tours that offer visitors a chance to encounter kiwi in the wild are available. And last, but not least, perhaps one of the best kept secrets is that if you are prepared to make the extra effort to get to Stewart Island your chances of spotting kiwi will greatly increase. Stewart Island Kiwi Encounter tours are so confident of spotting southern brown and tokoeka kiwi that they provide a ‘kiwi guarantee’ promise.
Seeing kiwi while you are in New Zealand is an adventure well worth embarking on. And a medical placement with Ochre Recruitment in Aotearoa can be the portal that provides you with memories that last a lifetime. Why don’t you contact one of our friendly consultants to discuss job opportunities today?