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New Zealand Ambassador Ceremoniously Hands Over Kiwi Pair for New National Zoo Breeding Science Center

July 2010

On July 16, New Zealand Ambassador Roy Ferguson officially handed over a pair of brown kiwis to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in a ceremony at the Front Royal, Virginia, facility. The National Zoo and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s new science breeding program for kiwis will focus primarily on studying behavior and boosting the population using advances in reproductive technologies. No zoo has successfully performed an artificial insemination on a kiwi and the National Zoo aims to become the first to do so by studying why some kiwis are more likely to breed and the conditions that lead to increased levels of breeding in these monogamous birds.

The Zoo will be using its kiwi pair at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) to establish a new breeding science center. The male’s name is Tamatahi (ta-ma-TA-hee), which means first-born son, and the female is Hinetu (hee-nay-TOO), which means proud woman. Both birds came from the Ngati Hine people in New Zealand. Adding these animals to the genetic pool in North America is a rare and valuable opportunity. This pair came with another pair that will continue on to Germany and one bird that went to the San Diego Zoo. When these birds pass away, they will be sent back to the tribe for burial.

Kiwis are native to New Zealand and have been there for more than 60 million years, making them New Zealand’s most ancient bird. Brown kiwis are nocturnal, ground-dwelling, flightless birds whose adaptations more similarly resemble mammals than birds. They have specialized feathers around their face that look like whiskers, a keen sense of smell, good hearing and are the only bird with nostrils at the end of their beak. In addition, brown kiwis lay the largest eggs of all birds in relation to their body size.

Earlier this year, two female chicks hatched at the Zoo, marking the first time female kiwis hatched at the National Zoo. Currently there are only 16 female brown kiwis in zoos outside New Zealand, including nine in the United States.

On Friday, July 16, New Zealand Ambassador Roy Ferguson officially handed over the kiwi pair to the SCBI in a ceremony at the facility in Front Royal, Virginia.

Dave Wildt, head of SCBI’s Species Survival Center, first discussed the Zoo’s conservation objectives and the role of SCBI in brown kiwi conservation efforts. Following this, John Mataira (pictured above), consul general for the New Zealand Consulate in Los Angeles, blessed the birds in the Maori tradition. Kathleen Brader, senior bird keeper at the National Zoo and Species Survival Plan coordinator for kiwis outside of New Zealand; Geoff Reynolds, SCBI bird keeper; and Warren Lynch, SCBI bird unit manager, accepted the pair on behalf of the Zoo.

The Zoo and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s new breeding science program for kiwis will focus primarily on studying behavior and boosting the population using advances in reproductive technologies. No zoo has successfully performed an artificial insemination on a kiwi, and the National Zoo aims to become the first to do so by studying why some kiwis are more likely to breed and the conditions that lead to increased levels of breeding in these monogamous birds.

Scientists will also examine whether kiwis use scent markings to mark their territory and will use hormone-monitoring procedures to improve the captive management of this species. SCBI will have the capacity to hold up to six breeding pairs of kiwis.