The Bois Gentil (Friendly Forest) Crèche is a vital component of the recovery project which aims to restore the great spotted kiwi/roroa population in New Zealand. Nesting adults are found and tracked in the South Paparoa Range, north of Greymouth on the West Coast. Eggs are carefully retrieved and taken to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, a dedicated incubation facility run by the New Zealand Conservation Trust.
Once hatched, the chicks are brought to the Bois Gentil Crèche at one month old, where they are nurtured until reaching just over 1200g. A weight considered to be stoat-proof. They are then returned to their original habitat, where they quickly adapt to life near their parents. In addition to our conservation work, we gather information, as there is very little knowledge available about great spotted kiwi. We are the only group in New Zealand to monitor what happens once the birds are released: how they evolve, when they start mating, and whether they mate with wild birds or birds from the crèche.
Our manager/ranger Jo Halley, monitors their well-being with the technical assistance and supervision from the Department of Conservation in Greymouth.
The work we do includes:
Monitoring and catching adult birds in the wild
* We go in the bush at night and listen to the kiwi calls to try locate new pairs, so they can be fitted with a radio transmitter. Our aim is to monitor the birds, keeping track of their location and activity. Transmitters are attached to the kiwi's thighs and need replacing every year.
* We radio track those kiwi fitted with a transmitter, monitoring their movement and location. When the birds have no or very little activity, they are likely to be sitting on an egg. These signals help us decide when to try recover the egg.
* Any egg lifting, fitting or replacement of transmitters usually takes place on a fine day. The kiwi first need to be retrieved. Once at the burrow, the ranger reaches in and gently pulls the kiwi out by its strong legs. It might be necessary to dig a hole to get in far enough. Sometimes the ranger has to crawl in. Sometimes they can’t get to the bird at all and have to try another day. Sometimes kiwi fight and growl at them. They have very long sharp claws that can do damage to soft human skin!
Caring for the birds at the crèche
* Carrying health checks, leaving supplementary food for the young kiwis where needed.
* Young kiwi are regularly weighed, measured and examined for health and condition.
Releasing the birds back into wilderness
Finally, once they have reached a weight of over 1200g, we release the juveniles back into the wild and start the work of monitoring their evolution into sub-adults and then adult birds. This is the time to observe and learn about their mating behaviour.
Maintaining the land and fences that protect the Bois Gentil Crèche is another key task, in which we are supported by New Zealand Conservation Volunteers (NZVC). Please join us during one of our open days to hear more about the great spotted kiwi, our mission and work.