As national mascots go, the kiwi ain’t all that impressive. It’s slow, flightless, practically blind. If Darwin had his way, this rare bird would probably be well and truly a footnote in history by now.
Yet its otherworldliness, I think, evokes the protector in all of us. When I first laid eyes on the first of two kiwi released on Motutapu Island last week, I felt something stir in me.
Surprisingly animated – ducking, squirming, flexing – it was larger than I expected. Cuddlier looking, somehow. By the time it made its way to the end of the receiving line, where I was, the kiwi was getting slightly agitated. I refrained from touching it, not wanting to exacerbate the stress, but others said its feathers were firm, even hard, despite how soft and glossy they looked.
I’m not an animal person at all, but the passion of the conservation staff was infectious. There was a quaver in this man’s voice when he later spoke of the path that led him here, starting with seeing the remains of a moa at the museum, and today, when his 6-year-old son touched the feathers of the kiwi before its release. “Come back in 20 years – it’ll be real noisy,” he promised. I’m thankful we care enough to preserve the kiwi (and our other unique birdlife, which Lord knows need our help).
Here’s another kick ass bird being cultivated on Motutapu, the takahe. It’s a bird we spent many hours learning about and drawing pictures of in primary school, and which (to my best memory) we saw on a school trip to Motutapu back then. Sadly, my only memory of that first visit is of being teased by classmates about my hat. It was a baby bonnet, apparently, one my frugal mother would have picked up at one garage sale or another.
Motutapu has been pest free since late 2011 and thanks to replanting over the past decades, is stunningly lush and green, surrounded by some of the clearest, warmest seawater I can ever remember dipping into in New Zealand.
As I was discussing with one of the others at the event, it would be a pretty idyllic place to live – as long as you had a boat, of course.