It’s a white Christmas at Pukaha Mount Bruce with the surprise hatching of a second rare white kiwi at the national wildlife centre.
The chick hatched last Sunday in the centre’s kiwi nursery, where Manukura, the world’s first white kiwi hatched in captivity arrived in May, creating global headlines.
“We were gob-smacked really,” centre manager Kathy Houkamau said. “While every kiwi is precious, to have a second white chick is a delightful gift, especially at this time of year. “We thought Christmas had come early in May when Manukura arrived but now it’s come twice.”
“The timing is wonderful for holidaymakers who can now see Manukura and brown kiwi in the nocturnal house, and view the new chick being hand-reared in the nursery from Boxing Day for approximately 10 days, all going well,” Ms Houkamau said.
A small number of North Island Brown Kiwi carry a recessive white gene which both the male and female must have to produce a white chick. Department of Conservation captive breeding ranger Darren Page said it was remarkable that two birds with the rare white gene had paired up in 940-hectare Pukaha forest to produce two white chicks over two seasons.
“Both white birds have the same father, who we have identified through his transmitter,” Mr Page said. “We can’t identify the mother but assume she is the same because of the rarity of the white gene.”
There is a one-in-four chance of such a pair producing a white chick. “The probability that the pair will breed again is quite high but we have no influence over the pairing and no way of knowing if they have produced more chicks together unless they’re white,” Mr Page said.
The parents of the two white chicks were among 30 kiwi transferred from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island in 2010 to boost the adult kiwi population at Pukaha. The white gene is thought to have found its way into the kiwi population on Little Barrier Island after a white kiwi was put on the island early last century. The island, north of Auckland, is generally off-limits to visitors.
Local Maori iwi Rangitane o Wairarapa has named the chick Mauriora, meaning ‘sustained life’. “Used as an exclamation or definition of something important, Mauriora is a powerful name,” Rangitane chief executive and Pukaha board member Jason Kerehi said. “This new kiwi is seen as an assurance that we are blessed with more than one special creature and there is potential for more.”
“In the Maori realm, all things have a ‘mauri’ or ‘essence’ but equally significant is that in order for mauri to flourish it must have a second element – the addition of a second white kiwi completes the mauri,” Mr Kerehi said.
The chick has brought surprise and delight to staff and board at Pukaha in what has been an extraordinary year. “It’s been phenomenal – not just because of the white chicks but the record kiwi breeding here over the past two seasons,” Mr Page said. “There was always a chance we could get another white kiwi but we didn’t really expect it. We hope it will further raise the profile of our work here and other kiwi recovery programmes.”
Eleven kiwi have hatched at the centre so far this season and with at least four months to go, more are expected. Of the two kiwi eggs currently incubating in the nursery one is from the same nest as Mauriora.
“We’ll have to wait and see what that brings.” Mr Page said. “There is plenty of time left this season for the kiwi pairs in the forest to produce another whole set of fertile eggs.” Thirteen of the fourteen kiwi successfully hatched last season at Pukaha have been released into the 940-hectare native forest there.