Introduction

There is one natural population of about 450 rowi in Ōkarito forest and surrounds in South Westland

Highlights

New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status: Nationally Critical
Population: About 450
Found in: Ōkarito forest and surrounds in South Westland, predator-free islands of Marlborough Sounds
Threats: Predation

Rowi - the rarest of them all brochure (PDF, 960K)

There is one natural population of about 450 rowi (Apteryx rowi) in Okarito forest and surrounds in South Westland. Okarito was designated as one of the five special Kiwi Sanctuaries in 2000. Rowi can also be found on two predator-free islands in the Marlborough Sounds, following successful translocations of birds.

Rowi vary from other species of kiwi in a range of ways. They are quite greyish in colour and often have patches of white on their faces. They also feel much softer to touch than other kiwi whose feathers are quite coarse. Both the male and female rowi take it in turns to look after the egg, and they also have a longer lifespan.

Despite predator trapping the biggest threat to rowi survival are stoats as they continue to kill a high percentage of kiwi chicks, until the chicks are approximately one kilogram in weight and better able to defend themselves.

Rowi are the rarest of the world’s five species of kiwi. This title unfortunately earns them a place on the ‘Nationally critical’ list.  

Rowi chick. Image: Chrissy Wickes.
Rowi chick

Threats to rowi

Two hundred years ago millions of kiwi lived throughout New Zealand’s forests. Now, introduced pests are so numerous that without extensive management they would ultimately lead to the demise of our national bird.

Stoats

The biggest threat to rowi survival is stoats. They are wanton killers; able to prey on species four to five times heavier than themselves. Despite the use of 3,000 traps in Okarito forest from 2001 to 2006, stoats continued to kill a high percentage of rowi chicks.

Dogs

Dogs find the strong distinctive scent of kiwi irresistible and easy to track. With no wing muscles to protect its chest, a kiwi is crushed to death within seconds. Just one uncontrolled dog can devastate an entire kiwi population. Keep dogs and cats away from kiwi zones.

Possums

Possums kill kiwi, destroy eggs and compete with kiwi for burrows.

Rats

Rat numbers can dramatically increase, ravaging populations of nesting songbirds. They also eat invertebrates - vital kiwi food.

Operation Nest Egg

Trapping failed to stop the stoats. Rowi numbers were declining quickly so something had to be done. With the support of Kiwis for Kiwi, the Department of Conservation established Operation Nest Egg.

Operation Nest Egg involves removing eggs from the risk of predation, hatching them in captivity, and placing the chicks in a predatorfree environment until they are big enough to fend for themselves (between 1 to 1.2 kg). They are then returned to the wild.

Unmanaged, a tiny proportion of kiwi eggs produce an adult bird.

  • Roughly 80 rowi eggs are laid each season
  • 40 of these eggs fail to even hatch
  • Of the remaining 40, 28 are killed by stoats, and about 8 die of natural causes or at the jaws and claws of other predators
  • This leaves just 4 chicks alive after the first 6 months
  • Of these 4 chicks, only 2 will survive over 1 year to make it to adulthood

However, using Operation Nest Egg the number of birds to make it to adulthood rises from 2 to approximately 50 per season. The aim is to increase the rowi population to 600 birds by 2018.

Using the latest monitoring technology, the DOC team can keep a close eye on rowi. DOC has worked with private business to develop ground-breaking technology specifically for DOC’s kiwi conservation work.

In order to track rowi, transmitters are attached to their legs. By measuring the bird’s activity, these intelligent transmitters tell the DOC team where the bird is, when an egg is laid and when a chick hatches.

A new system for data collection (nicknamed ‘Sky Ranger’) means that transmitter signals, that would previously have taken 45 days of groundwork to complete, can now be gathered during a two-hour flight.

How you can help kiwi

  • Dogs are strictly prohibited in kiwi sanctuaries. Make sure you know where your dog is at all times. Report any dogs seen in kiwi sanctuaries to DOC.
  • Do not release unwanted cats or ferrets into the wild. They will kill kiwi and other birds.
  • Watch out for birds on roads when travelling near a kiwi sanctuary after dark.
  • Keep your speed down.
  • Get involved. Join a local kiwi conservation project or start one yourself. 
  • Make a donation to Kiwis for Kiwi.

Contact

Franz Josef Glacier Base
Phone:   +64 3 752 0796
Fax:   +64 3 752 0797
Email:   westlandnpvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   13 State Highway 6
Franz Josef Glacier 7856
Postal Address:   PO Box 14
Franz Josef Glacier 7856
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