Strong man of the bush marks kiwi conservation milestone

From New Zealand Society, 3:30 pm on 8 April 2015

Lynda Holswich cradles Tanekaha just prior to his release with her son and Aaron Holswich looking on
Lynda Holswich cradles Tanekaha just prior to his release with her son Aaron Holswich looking on

“We’ve been really privileged to have seen and held a Kiwi in the wild… it makes you more a part of New Zealand than you ever were.”

– Lynda Holswich

A kiwi project on the East Coast of the North Island has celebrated the release of its 200th reared chick, by bringing together a New Zealand woman and her own ‘fledgling’ to mark the occasion.

Privately-funded Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 by Auckland businessman Simon Hall, to help restore threatened species of New Zealand fauna and flora in several North Island native forests.

Of its eight main restoration and rejuvenation projects, the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project deep inland in the northern Hawke’s Bay, is establishing itself as one of the most prolific and successful Kiwi conservation initiatives in the country.

And it is here that Aucklander Lynda Holswich was recently flown to help return a juvenile male North Island brown kiwi back to the bush.

Having won an online competition to release the chick, Lynda was joined by her son Aaron, who had been secretly flown in from Australia for the event.

“I had no idea! Not a clue!” says Lynda. “He told me he was going to be at an anniversary dinner.  What a ruse!”

Lynda and her son
Left: Lynda and Aaron Holswich moments after they were reunited. Right: Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust founder Simon Hall carrying Tanekaha to his release spot.

The Trust has been releasing Kiwi back into the 6,000 hectare site since 2007, after discovering a remnant Kiwi population in the Maungataniwha Native Forest.

But with the population in decline, the project swung into action and started harvesting eggs from the area.

And since its inception nine years ago, it has harvested about 360 eggs and seen 200 reared chicks released back into the wild, about 160 of which have been released back to Maungataniwha.

According to the Trust, fully-fledged chicks released back into the forest as part of the project have an approximately 70 percent chance of survival.

This survival rate contrasts starkly with the five percent chance that Kiwi have of making it to adulthood if hatched in the bush and left unprotected against predators

The young adult that Lynda Holswich released was taken from Maungataniwha as an egg, incubated at Rotorua’s Kiwi Encounter before hatching on September 19th 2014.

He was then transferred to Cape Sanctuary where he was reared from 462 grams to a ‘stoat-proof’ weight of just under 1 kilogram. Upon his release, the Kiwi was bestowed the name Tanekaha by Lynda.

Tanekaha at the entrance to his new burrow in the Maungataniwha Native Forest in inland Hawke s Bay
Tanekaha at the entrance to his new burrow in the Maungataniwha Native Forest in inland Hawke's Bay

“It means strong man. My boss was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and he’s in hospital…and so I asked him if he’d like to help pick a name.”

And less than 50 metres from the entrance to Tanekaha’s new burrow serendipitously stands a namesake tree.

“I was really rapt when I learnt that,” says Lynda. “He’s going to be a strong little Kiwi and it also meant something to me for Aaron as well, because he’s my strong man.”

It’s estimated the Kiwi population in the Maungataniwha Native Forest now numbers around 85 pairs, up from the original 66 that were surveyed back in 2006.