By Tracy Brighten
New Zealand’s endangered national bird suffered another blow in Northland where dog owners thwart conservation efforts
The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) recovered eight kiwi killed in a conservation area in North Island’s Northland region over a ten week period from May to August. Post mortem examinations revealed they were mauled to death by dogs.
DNA from saliva found on three kiwi has been matched to three dogs. Door-to-door enquiries revealed uncontrolled dogs in the area and skin and fur samples matched DNA in the saliva. The owners co-operated with the investigation into the kiwi deaths and agreed to their dogs being euthanised.
DOC senior ranger Adrian Walker said the Far North District Council also fined two of the owners NZ$200 each for failing to keep their dogs under control, as required by the Dog Control Act.
The Dog Control Act states that owners of dogs causing serious injury to a person or killing protected wildlife can be fined up to NZ$20,000 or spend up to three years in jail, reports the New Zealand Herald. Failing to keep a dog under control carries a maximum fine of NZ$3,000.
It seems the owners got off lightly given the risk to New Zealand’s endangered national bird, which could be extinct on the mainland within 50 years. The punishment does not send a clear message to irresponsible dog owners.
Dog attacks on kiwi are preventable
Michelle Impey, executive director of Kiwis for kiwi, the national charity for community-led kiwi conservation projects, says dog attacks are totally preventable.
“All across New Zealand we’re fighting a battle in the bush, trying to knock down stoats and other predators so that kiwi have a good chance of survival. An uncontrolled dog undoes all that good work,” says Impey.
The area where the dead kiwi were found is clearly signposted as a kiwi area where dogs must be kept on a lead, but some owners appear to be ignorant, lazy or defiant.
Cats, stoats, and rats are a threat to kiwi eggs and chicks, but dogs are the main killer of adult kiwi in Northland. The average lifespan there is 14 years compared to 45-60 years elsewhere in New Zealand, says DOC.
Kiwi conservationists are dedicated to breeding, pest control and research, yet their work can be undone in just one night of rampage. Dogs – whether hunting dogs, farm dogs, or pets – are responsible for 80% of adult kiwi deaths each year. Kiwi populations can handle some chick losses, but the death of a breeding adult is far more serious.
Responsible dog owners can protect kiwi
Many owners believe they have a right to keep their dog off the lead, claiming their dog wouldn’t kill, but kiwi smell is tempting. Dogs kill in seconds. Because the kiwi doesn’t have a breastbone, even a curious dog not intending harm can cause death.
If owners keep dogs inside or in an escape-proof garden, especially at night when kiwi leave their burrows, and if roaming dogs are reported to DOC, kiwi deaths can be prevented. New housing subdivisions in Northland conservation areas can carry restrictive covenants that ban dogs and cats, but compliance could be difficult to ensure and relies on how much people value native species.
Kiwi avoidance training discourages dogs from approaching kiwi and is very effective. Dogs used for hunting are required to undertake avoidance training before a hunting licence is granted, but there is no such requirement for pets.
In the last budget, after cutting conservation spending in previous years, the New Zealand government announced funding of NZ$11 million to help reverse the 2% annual decline in kiwi numbers. But this will be money wasted if dog and cat owners are not working with conservationists to protect kiwi.
Pets and working animals are part of the culture in many countries. Dogs wouldn’t need to be euthanised if owners considered their animal’s welfare. Owners have a duty and a moral obligation to their animals and to society to be responsible owners.
Conservationist informs Northland public (Kiwis for kiwi project)
Kiwi killed by dog (Te Ara Encyclopedia)
Kiwi avoidance training (Kiwis for kiwi)