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Keeping predators out to protect the endangered Brown Kiwi

In New Zealand and around the world, Gallagher fencing is mostly used to keep big animals in. But in a small scenic reserve situated in the Central North Island, a team of conservation volunteers is using Gallagher’s technology to protect a wild population of endangered North Island Brown Kiwi chicks.

In 2002, it was estimated that a remnant population of 200 Eastern Brown Kiwi remained in the Kaweka Ranges. Chick mortality due to predation by stoats, ferrets and dogs was so high, only one out of every 20 Kiwi made it to adulthood.

Without strategic intervention, it was likely the Kaweka Kiwi would be extinct within 10 years.

Kiwi crèche to the rescue
In 2008, the Environment, Conservation & Outdoor Education Trust (ECOED) set up a Kiwi crèche at Lake Opouahi, a 40ha pest-free area surrounded by a 3.3km predator-proof fence to raise kiwi chicks with minimal intervention.

Phil Kay has been a ECOED Trustee since its inception and was on hand when the original fence was erected over 20 years ago.

“Kiwis face dangers from a wide variety of predators. Ferrets, cats and dogs are the biggest threat to adult Kiwis. Stoats are the enemy of Kiwi chicks.

“For the sake of New Zealand’s biodiversity, we need to give these Kiwis a fighting chance to expand their population. We do that by bringing in Kiwi chicks from the wild and placing them within the boundaries of the predator-proof fence. Inside, they can grow in relative safety and our volunteers regularly monitor their progress.”

Once the Kiwi chicks reach a weight of 1,000 grams, they are deemed large enough to fend off most predators. Upon reaching that milestone, they are then released back into the wild.

The all-important fence
The predator-proof fence employs a variety of sophisticated meshes that run the entire 3.3km length. This includes an underground mesh to prevent animals from digging their way in and a clever top cap that stops predators from climbing over.

To help protect the Kaweka Kiwis a multi-wired electric fence was constructed using Gallagher componentry. With wires set at two heights and running the length of the fence, two levels of protection have been added. Phil explains.

“The Kiwi crèche is surrounded by farmland and cattle often graze on the perimeter of the fence line. These animals can weigh over 500 kilograms, and it wouldn’t take much for one of them to break a post or kick a hole in the mesh. A breach may not be found until the next fence check, and by that stage, all manner of predators could have entered the crèche.

“Thankfully, cattle damage isn’t an issue – Gallagher’s electrical system deters the animals and keeps them at bay.

“There’s another upside to having a live current: it deters larger pests like possums from climbing up the fence. These extra elements all play a part in keeping the Kiwi safe.”

Holding the line
As comprehensive as the Kiwi crèche system is, incursions can happen. To minimise this risk, regular maintenance is carried out by a small army of volunteers. This includes monitoring a network of traps inside the creche fence. Gallagher’s Georgia Burgess is among them.

Georgia is Gallagher’s Territory Manager in the Hawke’s Bay, and though she wasn’t around when the outrigger fence was installed, she gladly gives her time and advice to help maintain the system.

“The Kiwi crèche is a marvellous project and I love being involved. Whether it’s periodically checking the system or making recommendations to Phil and his team, I’m glad to play a small part.

“So far, more than 310 kiwi chicks have been raised and returned to the Kaweka Forest Park, which is exciting. If things keep progressing, the numbers of North Island Brown Kiwi in the Kawekas will be back up to a sustainable level.”