Date: 23 April 2020
Kiwi House General Manager Jo Russell says the popular visitor attraction closed two days before the Government moved the country to Alert Level 4 on 25 March.
With visitor numbers dwindling due to the closure of New Zealand’s international borders, Jo Russell says the decision to close the facility was straightforward.
“We had to make sure our staff were safe, and well enough to care for our animals,” she says.
The Otorohanga Kiwi House works with DOC on programmes including breed-for-release projects for native birds and giant weta. The two organisations also collaborate on monitoring of long-tailed bats (pekapeka) and also kiwi aversion dog training.
Jo Russell says the support from people across the Waikato in recent weeks has been huge, with hundreds of dollars in fruit and vegetables donated to feed the more than 220 birds and animals (including kiwi, whio, kea, tuatara, skinks and wētā) at the Kiwi House.
“We didn’t want to go into the food supply chain for humans, and put pressure on that,” she says. “Where we can, we’ve gone to our community and said ‘if you’ve got surplus fruit and vegetables, we’ll take it’. We’ve got a process in place to make sure that’s done safely.”
“We’re so grateful – we’ve currently got 36 families contributing surplus fruit and vegetables, and one of our suppliers has loaned us a refrigerated unit on a trailer.
“This has certainly helped to reduce our costs, too.”
The Otorohanga Kiwi House operation is financed through visitor admission charges – and with no visitors, the generosity of the wider community has been vital.
Four Kiwi House staff within a Ministry of Primary Industries-approved “bubble” are living in two houses at the site – one home inside the boundary fence, and another just outside the fence.
“Right now, it’s about feeding 227 animals on-site every day,” Jo Russell says. “Our staff are working on a roster system across seven days, doing all the usual tasks.”
Team members off-site are also contributing, for example through collecting the essential leaf litter used in enclosures.
DOC’s Maniopoto District Operations Manager Oscar Emery paid tribute to the Kiwi House staff who were living on-site and caring for the animals.
“The team at the Kiwi House play an important role in wider taonga species protection through involvement in captive breeding programmes, and it’s a testament to their commitment they’ve created a bubble to keep up the great work they do,” Mr Emery says.
“The generosity of our wider Waikato community, in donating food, also reflects on the importance of those species to New Zealanders.”
A Give-a-Little page has been set up so supporters can assist the park with donations towards caring for the animals.
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