Eight endangered rowi kiwi birds have reportedly died from respiratory infections while being treated for a gut parasite at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand, resulting in a major blow to conservationists trying desperately to save the species.
“All were juvenile, noted the Jo Macpherson, head of the country’s Department of Conservation’s biodiversity unit, who added that rowis are the rarest sub-species with only 400 of the flightless birds left in the world. “Obviously zoo and DOC staff are devastated by their loss."
According to Macpherson the gut parasite had weakened the immune systems of the 8 birds, “making them vulnerable to a fungus found in bark that was used in the area where they were being housed. The bark has been regularly used at the zoo to simulate a natural environment with no adverse effects. This is an extremely rare and unfortunate occurrence and has come as a great blow."
The DOC has been working hard to save the birds, whose numbers have been decimated by the introduction of predators such as rats, pigs and ferrets ever since first Europeans (led by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman) arrived in the northern end of the South Island in Golden Bay in December 1642.
While only about 70,000 (total) kiwis remain in the wild, the rowi sub-species is regarded as critically endangered, with only 400 left. Their numbers, however, have been increasing since the 1990’s thanks to an intensive conservation program known as “Operation Nest Egg” in which volunteers search the Okarita area on New Zealand’s South Island wilderness for rowi eggs, then take them to hatch on a predator-free island. The chicks then remain there until they are large enough to defend themselves and can be placed back in their natural habitat at the Okarita Kiwi Sanctuary.