Holding a Kiwi

Holding a Kiwi

We each serve this world in a number of ways. My two recent guests on Voices from the North have chosen to stand up for creatures whose very survival depends on the diligence and care of compassionate people like themselves. Wendy Sporle has been an advocate for the kiwi for close to twenty years. She’s the National Mentor for Advocacy at the Bank of New Zealand’s Save the Kiwi Project. June Salt is a passionate representative of a highly successful local kiwi undertaking, the Whakaangi Landcare Trust..


Over an unknown period of time, in the absence of mammalian predators, many New Zealand birds became flightless. They also filled the ecological niches that in different places would have been filled by rodents and other small mammals. One species of New Zealand moa was arguably the tallest bird ever to grace this planet and weighed around 500 pounds.


In relatively recent times mammals, including humans, have been introduced to the islands of New Zealand. With this population change, has come the extinction of a number of flightless birds unprepared for the new predators they’ve encountered. The last of the moas disappeared only a few centuries ago. But one of its distant relatives remains and it has become a national symbol of these fair islands. I’m speaking, of course, of the kiwi—a unique nocturnal, burrow-dwelling, flightless bird with feathers not unlike the fur of rodents such as squirrels who play similar roles in other places.


Wendy’s position takes her all over New Zealand. She recently returned from a trip to Stewart Island where she saw the opportunistic feeding of kiwis on the beaches of that southerly isle. She sees the urgent need for dog owners to take more responsibility for their pets whenever in kiwi-inhabited areas. Dogs are responsible for something like 70% of adult kiwi deaths. Dogs are quite naturally attracted to the strong smelling birds, but they only grab the birds, shake them and spit them out. They don’t eat kiwis. Dogs should be kept on leads and muzzled whenever in kiwi areas and aversion training is also now available. Whenever exotic forests are planted, people are encouraged to leave some less-productive swamp and valley areas in native vegetation to provide kiwi habitat. Burning of brush is highly discouraged.


June described the success of their group of 18 landowners over an eight year period. The Whakaangi Landcare Trust is truly a wonderful example of acting collectively and locally to make a difference. With numbers of North Island Brown Kiwis plummeting to approximately 10,000 from the millions of the past, such efforts are to be applauded and, hopefully, replicated.


More and more fortunate people today decide to stand up for a cause, to stand up for those who can’t necessarily stand up for themselves. Wendy Sporle and June Salt represent new armies—armies of people dedicated in selfless service to causes beyond there own basic needs and comforts. I applaud them and encourage others to find similar worthwhile causes that help make this a better and more just world. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.’ My two guests on Voices from the North would concur that assisting a relatively helpless bird feels good to them.


Listen to this fascinating Voices from the North interview and hear the guttural sounds of the female North Island Brown Kiwi, the higher pitched, haunting cry of the male and the stories of two inspiring women.


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