July 22, 2012
I must apologize for the lateness in writing this kiwi update; my only excuse is that this will probably be the hardest one I have ever had to write. Many of you know that our beloved Kiwi Ambassador Manaia passed away suddenly on May 26, 2012. There were no clear signs of Manaia having a problem, except that he did seem a bit slower the week before. But he was eating and doing his regular duties as our kiwi ambassador. We are still waiting for the final pathology reports, but initially he was in very good condition but showed some sign of having some mild congestion in the lungs and mild edema around the heart. He did appear to be slightly more congested the last week before he died. Our weather had been quite hot and humid which is not the kiwi’s best weather, and with his old injury to his bill it may have affected his breathing more then we realized.
That said, Manaia’s death has been like the lost of a close and faithful friend to me. I will never forget the day he hatched, February 13, 2006. Some of you may not be aware of his fast and furious entry into the world, which gave us all of us here heart strain for a bit. Kiwi typically hatch after an incubation period of 68 (being early) up to 90 days, usually you see them hatch around day 78 to85. Not Manaia; he always did everything in his own and special way. I was off work for a few days and as it was in the very early 60s of the day count. After candling the egg, I was sure we were fine until I returned to work on day 64. I got a panicked call around 1 p.m. on day 63 from a keeper telling me the kiwi had hatched. She had to repeat it three times before it sunk into my brain. I rushed to my car and raced to the zoo (I live 26 miles away and broke many speed limits on the way in). I think that was the fastest I ever made it to the Zoo. The keepers had checked on the egg only about two hours before they got a call from our HVAC unit that an alarm had gone off that the incubator was out of range of the temperature settings. (All of our incubators are monitored by our HVAC staff remotely so they can call someone in if the incubator go out of range during the night.) Two keepers went in to look, and lo and behold they saw from across the room a dark fuzzy object in the incubator. At first they thought it was dead and then they got closer and it moved! They called the vet staff and me, by the time I got there the vets had come and gone and pronounced all well. I sent out emails to some folks in New Zealand to ask if they had ever hatched out a kiwi at 63 days. They said no, but you could almost see them shrug their shoulders and say, ”Well it’s a kiwi, all bets are off.” They said they wouldn’t worry about it as long as the wee one looked good. This was our first kiwi chick at the National Zoo in about 30 years, so we spent a lot of time over the next two weeks just looking at him and praying all was well. It was, and Manaia wasa very laid back bird right from the beginning and didn’t seem to be fazed by all the attention from the staff and the media. He just took everything in his stride.
We expected to see some media interest in our country, but we were taken off guard by the amount of press we got in New Zealand. Manaia’s hatching made the press, TV, and radio over there. I was even interviewed over the phone for a live broadcast on a radio station in Auckland! Simply amazing.
Manaia’s hatching also corresponded with the arrival (the same day) of the New Zealand Ambassador Roy Ferguson and his wife, Dawn. This began our close relationship with the New Zealand embassy. Over the years, Manaia met many of the staff and their families, including many of their family and friends that came to visit D.C.. Manaia has met several celebrities in his time. Hs unusual friendly and whimsical style he won over many “non-bird” people to adore him and all kiwi. Manaia could be trusted to be kind to children (as young as four months) up to the senior citizens. He won them all over by his sweet and unpretentious nature.
Kiwi generally are not too concerned with us humans. They can also be very aggressive toward us (we are just big kiwi to be kicked out of their territory), but not Manaia. I am not anthropomorphizing him, but Manaia did have a very unusual nature for a kiwi. They do not imprint like other birds or animals that are hand-reared You just get what you get with kiwi. But you cannot work with any animal as intimately as we did with Manaia and not develop real feelings for them. I always understood that he was not my petm but a very special animal that I had the privilege to get know and work with. My life will be different without Manaia in it, but I also will have the wonderful memories that I got to share part of his life. I will never forget the wonderful bird that was truly a one of kind, Haere ra my friend and may your wairua find its way to Aotearoa. Kei te aroha au ki a koe, Manaia.
I do want to add a little bit of what we are doing now. With Manaia’s passing, we have put the Meet A Kiwi program on hold. Since we relied very heavily on Manaia, we did not keep up our training with Koa, and we felt he wasn’t ready to step up to doing the program full-time. So we went back to the basics. We have started doing training or conditioning sessions almost every day that last anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. This involves putting Koa in the Meet A Kiwi viewing box with his special treats, mealworms, waxworms, and of course earthworms scattered around in the mulch. Koa has really come along very well, and within the last month he has become more relaxed and less antsy. We hope by mid-August we will begin again offering the Meet A Kiwi program to small groups. Koa has always had a different attitude then Manaia but in the last year he has come to actually eat worms from hand, he never wanted to hand feed as a youngster, so I think eventually he will become more comfortable with the keeper staff.
The other tidbit of news is that we are now going to be keeping our youngest kiwi, nicknamed “Pip,” originally he was going to be sent to Alphen in the Netherlands for breeding but the sad loss of Manaia, we took another look at what arrangements we could make to keep our commitment to send a young male there for their female. The kiwi chick that hatched out at a SCBI, nicknamed “Pokey” by his keepers (he was named that as the first thing they saw of him was his beak poking out of the shell) was actually a better genetic match then Pip, so Pokey will be going to the Netherlands in the fall. Now Pip is being groomed to be our other Ambassador kiwi. He was somewhat like Manaia in that he tended to be very comfortable being with people. But as originally he was destined for breeding, we did not spend a lot of time handling him. We are also putting Pip through the conditioning sessions, time in the viewing box with treats, but we are also spending time holding him and giving him some exercise on the floor with a few people to get him comfortable with walking around and meeting some folks. He has his own way. He was bit antsy when we started the floor part (we just began this stage last week), but seems to be getting more comfortable. We are going to take the long view so to speak with his training, so I don’t anticipate Pip doing the Meet A Kiwi program for many months. But the beginning stage looks hopeful.
To wind up this very long update is that the other kiwi are fine but Maori and Nessus are really waiting like the rest of u