The kiwi is one of Aotearoa’s national icons. It is known as te manu huna a Tāne – the hidden bird of Tāne. Kiwi have always been under the protection of Tāne Mahuta, god of the forest. Today, they are keenly protected by diverse groups of people who act as kaitiaki (guardians) of the kiwi. One group – the Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust – has helped create a conservation methodology that many others now follow.

Te take – the critical decline of kiwi at Lake Waikaremoana

Like many other native birds, kiwi are under threat from introduced predators. Lake Waikaremoana, in Te Urewera National Park, had seen its kiwi population decline by 90% in the 70 years from 1920–1990. The hapū of Lake Waikaremoana were determined not to lose this taonga.

Dr John McLennan, working for Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, joined with the hapū and the Department of Conservation to restore kiwi numbers. Together, they created an inland island along the shore of Lake Waikaremoana by fencing off the Puketukutuku Peninsula, which covers about 750 hectares and is surrounded by water on three sides. The fence is intended to keep kiwi chicks in the area and help keep pests out. The fence is electrified on the outside to deter pigs and deer.

[Puketukutuku Peninsula is] surrounded on three sides by water, and that’s why we chose it way back in 1992 for predator control because we figured we could probably win in a place like this where the water prevented predators from getting in on three sides.

Dr John McLennan

Te whāinga – increase the kiwi population by controlling predators

The Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust runs a trapping programme designed to eliminate the main predator – stoats. Trust members have been laying traps since 1995 and have achieved remarkable results. Over a 10-year period, they’ve seen a 56% survival rate among brown kiwi chicks. In the adjoining bush area, with no trapping, the survival rate is less than 10%. The Trust now knows that the Puketukutuku Peninsula supports about 50 pairs of adult and about 50 juvenile kiwi. It’s gone from an initial population of 24 to its full carrying capacity.

Success for kiwi, the local hapū and national conservation programmes

Dr McLennan’s 9-year study demonstrated that the predation of eggs and chicks was the main cause of kiwi decline. It has significantly influenced conservation projects across Aotearoa. The project was also a big win for the Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust. It now manages the project – the first time the Department of Conservation has handed over full responsibility for species work on conservation land!

Nature of science

Scientific explanations rely on observation and evidence. In the 1990s, people thought kiwi numbers had dropped because not enough chicks survived to adulthood. Dr John McLennan and his team monitored kiwi and produced evidence to back this claim.

The Trust sees its mahi as intergenerational – the foundations it lays today require the help of future generations if the kiwi, flora and fauna of Lake Waikaremoana are to regenerate and thrive.

The Trust used its knowledge and experience to create another inland island on Lake Waikaremoana. Surplus kiwi from Puketukutuku Peninsula were moved to the 450-hectare Whareama Peninsula. It is also fenced and has predator control.

Kaitiakitanga and mana whakahaere

The Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust members put in a huge amount of effort to build and maintain fences, walk transects to lay, clear and bait traps and monitor tagged kiwi. This reflects their kaitiakitanga and mana whakahaere – guardianship and connections – to Te Urewera. These concepts are explained in the article Kaitiakitanga and mana whakahaere. Although the article uses the Waikato River as its context, the concepts apply to the wider Māori world view.

Conservation islands

The Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust has created two inland islands to protect and re-establish kiwi populations in Te Urewera. There are other types of conservation islands. Offshore islands – like Tiritiri Matangi – use the sea as protection from predators. Mainland islands use predator-proof fencing to protect forested or wetland areas. Some mainland islands are huge – Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari in the Waikato region is the largest pest-proof fenced project in the world. Find out more about conservation islands in the articles Orokonui Ecosanctuary: a mainland island and Protecting native birds.

Tagging and tracking animals

Dr McLennan and members of the Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust used tags and tracking devices to monitor kiwi numbers. Read why and how different animals are tagged: giant kōkopu, sea stars, penguin chicks, godwits and butterflies.

Activity idea - tracking tunnels

Tracking tunnels monitor the presence of pest species. Students can make these out of milk cartons, identify any tracks present in the tunnel and decide on a potential plan of action. Use this activity as a guide.

Useful links

There are more than 80 community-led kiwi conservation projects around Aotearoa. Check out the website Kiwis for Kiwi to see if one operates in your region.

The Kiwis for Kiwi website tells the legend of how the kiwi lost his wings.

Visit the Department of Conservation website to learn more about the iconic kiwi.

Project Mātauranga

Watch Series 2/Episode 2: Bringing the Kiwi Back

Project Mātauranga is a television series that investigates Māori world views and methodologies within the scientific community and looks at their practical application. Each of the 13 episodes in series 2 shows how western science and Māori knowledge systems are combining to provide solutions to a variety of challenges.

The Science Learning Hub thanks Scottie Productions for allowing us to host these videos.

    Published 16 August 2016