Long trek to save New Zealand's spotted kiwi
11 Jan 2010
A veteran Auckland conservationist is footing it on a lengthy trek to help save endangered New Zealand spotted kiwi.
Des Lehndoft set off last week from Collingwood - in the north of the South Island - and expects to take more than three months to reach his destination at the other end of the island.
His itinerary will cover some of New Zealand’s most isolated and rugged territory including five national parks, nine mountain passes, 11 lakes and 14 major rivers before arriving at Te Waewae Bay in the country’s deep south in April.
Along the way, Lehndoft hopes to raise money to help a conservation project for the roroa or great spotted kiwi.
For Lehndoft, an experienced tramper, the 1250km walk4kiwis trek will realise a life-long ambition to tramp through the South Island.
By raising funds - "hopefully a significant amount" - to help the plight of the kiwi, the journey would "kill two birds with one stone", Lehndoft said.
Great spotted kiwi - the largest of New Zealand’s five kiwi species - have isolated habitats in some of New Zealand’s most remote country, and conservationists want to establish a population of the birds in a more accessible, established area so they can carry out a closer study of the species.
Friends of Flora
Money raised by Lehndoft’s efforts would make a dent in the funding required by voluntary group 'Friends of Flora' to reinstate kiwi in the northern sector of Kahurangi National Park in the South Island’s north-west.
The initial cost of locating seven pairs of great spotted kiwi using special dogs, then transporting them to the new location by helicopter and fitting them with radio transmitters, costs NZ$24,000. That figure increases to $72,000 with ongoing tracking over three years.
A huge number of man hours are involved, according to Lehndoft.
"But we will get there and it will be worth every cent. Having spent a lot of time in this very special part of New Zealand, this is something that is very dear to my heart," he said.
He has split the journey into 10 stages, varying from four to 12 days, and plans to be 100% self-sufficient en route, sleeping nights in remote Department of Conservation (DOC) and farm mustering huts, or in his tent.
Background: Roroa - NZ spotted kiwi
The pre-European population of roroa or NZ spotted kiwi was estimated at about 12 million, but fewer than 20,000 birds remain and numbers are thought to be decreasing at the rate of about 2% per year.
Early Maori hunted roroa for food and feathers, which were prized for cloak-making.
European-introduced predators such as rats, cats and dogs coupled with large-scale land clearing and mining had a disastrous effect on the spotted kiwi population.
Survivors retreated to New Zealand’s most remote back-blocks, only to be hunted out by stoats, weasels and ferrets that had been introduced to control the rabbit population. Possums are another predator.
The kiwi has a distinct musky smell and is very easily sniffed out by its predators.
Even today, in the areas where there is no predator control, the mortality rate among birds under the age of 12 months is 95%. In areas with some control, this drops to 40%.
Kiwi chicks are abandoned by their parents as soon as they hatch, so are incredibly vulnerable for the first year of life.
Females of the spotted kiwi species can grow up to 50cm tall and weigh up to 3.3kg. The male is slightly smaller, reaching 45cm and 2.6kg.
A pair of kiwi will occupy a territory of up to 25ha and will fiercely defend their home turf. Kiwi are nocturnal, but in pre-European days were also known to feed during the day.
Kahurangi - hiking in a national park
Bird conservation in NZ
Iconic New Zealand birds
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