Predator-free Rotoroa Island has proven to be a great place to grow up for five healthy 'teenage' (sub-adult) kiwi, who are today heading home to Te Mata on the Coromandel.

During the 2014-15 kiwi breeding season, through a new partnership between Auckland Zoo, Rotoroa Island Trust (RIT) and Thames Coast Kiwi Care (TCKC), the five Coromandel brown kiwi were among the first chicks to be released onto the 83ha haven.

The Coromandel brown kiwi is the rarest of the four populations of brown kiwi, and the partnership is working to help boost their numbers.

Now aged five to 18 months, the five kiwi (one male and four females) were collected as eggs from a 2,500ha block in Te Mata that is intensively trapped by TCKC volunteers, then incubated, hatched, and reared by Zoo staff before being released onto Rotoroa at around three weeks old. 

Auckland Zoo Birds keeper Natalie Clark has been involved in the full life-cycle of the birds - from egg collection through to incubation, hatching, rearing, releasing the chicks, and being part of the mustering team, to locate and round up the kiwi for today's releases:

"We've put these little chicks on Rotoroa and in a relatively short time they've tripled in size!  It’s been an incredible team effort to get to this day, with our Rotoroa colleagues providing a safe home for the birds to flourish. It now feels great to be bringing these birds back to Te Mata where the TCKC volunteers are putting so much work into trapping. 

"As long as holiday makers and Coromandel locals keep their dogs on a lead when they're in kiwi country, we have a chance to save these special birds and see them thrive," says Natalie.

Rotoroa Island chair Barrie Brown, says seeing Rotoroa provide a haven for chicks and watch them returned to the wild as young adult birds, is hugely rewarding.

"It's a testament to the hard work of a great many people, from community conservation groups, to Auckland Zoo, the Department of Conservation and our own island staff. It's wonderful to know that Rotoroa has safely reared and released a new generation of kiwi."

Some of the kiwi being released will be fitted with transmitters and tracked over the coming six weeks to monitor their dispersal.

Thames Coast Kiwi Care Chair, Richard Moyle says it's an exciting day for his team of volunteers.  

"The return of kiwi to Te Mata is truly a milestone for our small volunteer organisation that is operating largely out of sight of public gaze. Future generations of Kiwis can only be grateful for the generous and ongoing assistance of Auckland Zoo, Rotoroa Island Trust and the Department of Conservation in making our colony of Coromandel brown kiwi a self-sustaining population."

The 2015-16 kiwi breeding season has to date seen 13 more kiwi chicks released onto Rotoroa, and a 14th chick has just hatched at Auckland Zoo this week.   A second kiwi muster will take place next summer to return more kiwi to the Coromandel.

Rotorua Island Wildlife Reserve Facts:

  1. The Rotoroa Island Trust (RIT) and Auckland Zoo formed a partnership in  2012 to create a wildlife reserve on Rotoroa, funded by the Hutton Wilson Charitable Trust ($4m over five years)
  2. For 100 years, Rotoroa was run by the Salvation Army as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, and was closed to the public, a role that ceased in 2005. 
  3. In 2011, Rotoroa reopened to the public as an arts, heritage and conservation centre park, after the Hutton Wilson Charitable Trust purchased a 100-year lease of Rotoroa from the Salvation Army, who still own the island.
  4. Since 2008, 20,000 exotic trees have been removed and over 350,000 New Zealand native plants have been reintroduced 
  5. Along with today's arrival of tīeke (saddleback) and pōpokotea (whitehead), a solar-powered sound system to broadcast calls at a newly established artificial gannet colony on the island (designed to attract a real colony) will be switched on. Gannets are especially valuable to terrestrial ecology; through their guano (poo) they introduce many valuable nutrients that benefit the whole ecosystem
  6. The Rotoroa Wildlife Management and Translocation Plan 2013-2038 and the Rotoroa Current State Assessment can be found her​e.
  7. Hauturu o Toi (Little Barrier) is of high cultural significance for Ngati Manuhiri, with the reserve transferred to the hapu in 2013 as part of their Treaty Settlement. The island was then gifted back to the people of New Zealand, with a 1.2ha site being retained by Ngati Manuhiri as part of their cultural redress. Ngati Manuhiri support research and management programmes that deliver outcomes that complement their cultural values and aspirations.