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Last cuddle: Kiwi Birdlife Park keeper Johanna Kann with North Island brown kiwi Waihaka before he was flown to his new home

By HUGH COLLINS

Queenstown’s only wildlife park has had “overwhelming” support after being forced into Covid-19 survival mode.

For all of last month, Kiwi Birdlife Park on Brecon Street operated on donations only, a move that was purely about raising awareness, publicity and support.

Park manager Paul Kavanagh says subsequently the level of support from the Queenstown community has been “phenomenal”.

“It was amazing to see that we were moving in the right direction, there’s a lot of positivity around the park again.

“We’ve got a product we are really proud of and we want to make sure as many people experience that as possible and realise the value of the conservation work we are doing.”

The 34-year-old park’s a widely-acclaimed conservation park, entirely funded by visitors, where operating costs are about $1 million per annum.

Much of that’s spent on employing qualified wildlife staff, as well as feeding the 100 mouths who call it home.

While the park’s been quiet through the week, Kavanagh says at weekends up to 300 visitors are passing through the fences each day.

“All the visitors seem really happy and impressed with what we are trying to do.”

To round off the month the park sent two kiwi into the wild on June 23 – the birds were released at the Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park in the Whirinaki conservation area, near Rotorua.

“It’s coming into breeding season now so hopefully those two males will find mates and hopefully go on to breed and help to boost the kiwi population in the area.”

The birds were flown for free by Air New Zealand.

All of the park’s kiwi are eventually released into the wild, Kavanagh says.

“This is why we do this, is for those breed-for-release programmes.

“It’s what kind of excites most of our staff the most, is getting to release animals into the wild.

“Only five per cent of baby kiwi in the wild survive to be adults because of introduced predators.

“Whereas if you can protect them for at least the first six months to a year of their life, there is a much, much higher survival chance.

“So it’s a real buzz for all of the keepers and our staff.”

The kiwi are a North Island brown so would never be released in the South Island, Kavanagh says.

The birdlife park has also seen a spike in new volunteers over the past month.

It’s also had support from My Produce Box, an Otago company that’s offered the park free fruit and vegetables for a year.

hugh.collins@scene.co.nz