Kiwi bird saved by C-section

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One of Queenstown Kiwi Birdlife Park’s star breeding kiwis has been saved by a rare emergency C-section.

Park keepers found Tawahi having seizures in her burrow last Friday afternoon.

They rushed the bird, one of only two breeding females at the park, to vet Dr Orla Fitzpatrick at VetEnt Queenstown in Frankton.

After consulting with experts, including Brett Gartrell at Massey University, Tawahi went under the knife.

Fitzpatrick says: “She was in a really bad way.

“It was a choice of surgery or let her die.”

Tawahi was suffering from ‘egg-binding’, which means she would be unable to lay the egg.

“Even with healthy kiwis there’s a risk they won’t survive the anaesthetic or surgery,” Fitzpatrick says.

“She was a really sick kiwi – she already had aspiration pneumonia, she’d inhaled some of her stomach contents because she was pushing, and that makes it a massive anaesthetic risk.”

Tawahi arrived at the vets at about 3.30pm and Fitzpatrick, vet nurse Georgia Affleck and park manager Paul Kavanagh were still there at 1.30am.

Fitzpatrick says: “It was a real team effort. Her heart stopped twice during recovery but Georgia was able to administer emergency drugs – she was brilliant. Any time that we’re operating or involved with a native bird like a kiwi, which is so important, it’s kind of stressful.”

While the egg was not viable, Tawahi survived, although she’s still got some way to go to a full recovery.

“She is over the riskiest part, she is still not completely out of the woods,” Kavanagh says.

He praised the VetEnt team, particularly Fitzpatrick.

“She goes above and beyond to help save animals, especially when it comes to our native wildlife.

“Many of our species are incredibly rare and many vets might not have heard of them, let alone treated them.

“Orla does lots of research in her own time to make sure she can give the best level of care.”

Kiwi eggs are one of the biggest eggs to size ratios of any birds, about one sixth of the female’s body weight.

Tawahi’s unviable egg weighed about 400 grams, the equivalent of a 35lb baby.

Gartrell says cesarean operations on birds are carried out only one or two times a year at the university, a referral specialist, but it’s very rare for a vet in a private practice to operate.

“That makes it all the more impressive,” he says.

“She did a great job.”

Tawahi has successfully bred over the last few years and her chick from last year’s breeding season is due for release in autumn.

Tawahi herself will be released into the wild in the next few years.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz