For a flightless bird, our Coromandel brown kiwi made a grand entrance from the sky yesterday morning as it was flown by helicopter onto Motutapu Island where conservationists hope its population will thrive.

Five Coromandel Brown kiwi were released yesterday onto predator free Motutapu Island, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The translocation is part of a genetic diversification programme to help secure the survival of Coromandel kiwi which has a current population of around 1500.

Today’s release marks the start of a programme in which up to 50 Coromandel brown kiwi will be moved from the Coromandel Peninsula to Motutapu Island over the next four to six years. It is expected that up to 300 kiwi will one day call Motutapu home.

While most Brown kiwi populations are declining rapidly in the wild, Coromandel Brown Kiwi are increasing in number-thanks to the consistent efforts of over twelve community kiwi groups and the Department of Conservation. The five introduced to Motutapu today came from Project Kiwi, a volunteer organisation based on the Kuaotunu Peninsula that has been breeding the bird for 16 years.

Although establishing Coromandel brown kiwi on Motutapu is not a rescue operation, it could be an opportunity to increase the genetic diversity of kiwi in the Coromandel. By allowing kiwi sourced from all over the peninsula to be back in contact, mixing their genes and producing a more genetically robust Coromandel brown kiwi to return to the peninsula in the future.

The release also marks the launch of New Zealand’s new kiwi protection agency – Kiwis for kiwi, formally known as BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust.

Kiwis for kiwi executive director, Michelle Impey says that today’s kiwi release would not have been possible without the hard work and support of the Motutapu Restoration Trust, DOC, Coromandel conservation groups and iwi in Auckland and the Coromandel.

“Without the volunteers who’ve collected seeds, planted native trees and controlled weeds, we would not have suitable habitat to release kiwi on Motutapu. And without the work of projects such as Project Kiwi, which began 16 years ago and was the first community programme in the country to protect kiwi, we wouldn’t have birds to release on the island.

“Establishing a new population of Coromandel brown kiwi on Motutapu is the latest step in a long journey back from the brink for these birds. They owe their survival to the combined effort of more than 12 community kiwi groups, landowners, private companies and DOC,” says Ms Impey.