Press Release – Department of Conservation
Eight young rowi — the rarest species of kiwi — have died from respiratory tract infections. The kiwi were being treated for nematodes (a type of worm) in Wellington Zoo when they started to show signs of respiratory problems.
Upon the first signs of the infection, vets at Wellington Zoo removed the birds from the bark they were being housed on, suspecting that this may have caused the reaction.
“This bark has regularly been 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,” says Jo Macpherson, DOC’s Biodiversity Manager in Franz Josef.
“The respiratory tract infection was caused by the fungus Aspergillus spp. which is commonly found in the environment. It is thought that the birds’ weakened immunity from the nematodes made them susceptible to this. Aspergillosis is a very serious disease and causes severe damage to the lungs and air sacs in birds. It is also incredibly difficult to treat with a very low success rate.
“Obviously zoo and DOC staff are devastated by the loss of the birds. It is also a tragic loss for Kiwis for kiwi, who have supported the rowi programme and have been an integral player in the return of 200 rowi back to the wild.”
With fewer that 400 birds remaining, DOC has been working with Kiwis for kiwi to bring rowi back from the brink using BNZ Operation Nest Egg. Unmanaged, a tiny proportion of rowi survive to adulthood. Most (around 95 %) are killed by stoats. Using BNZ Operation Nest Egg, the number of birds to make it to adulthood rises from 2 to approximately 34 per year.
“These birds were removed from the wild as eggs in order to protect them while they grew big enough to defend themselves. They had been living on predator-fee Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds,” said Jo Macpherson.
“The kiwi had been transferred from the island to facilities at Wellington Zoo and Massey University in September for specialist treatment. A further, unrelated death occurred at Massey University, for which the Department is awaiting autopsy results.”
The Nest Te Kōhanga, Wellington Zoo’s animal hospital and centre for native wildlife, has been open since December 2009. In that time it has admitted over 1700 native animals, mostly from the wild but also from captive collections, requiring veterinary attention. Over 25 kiwi have been successfully treated since opening.
Late last week DOC rangers returned six healthy birds from Massey back to Moturara Island, leaving one bird still under observation at Wellington Zoo. The Department will be returning 18 rowi, currently on the island, to their last remaining natural home, in Ōkārito on the West Coast, in November.