Beak-oning support: Kiwi Birdlife Park general manager Paul Kavanagh admires a kiwi


A Queenstown park for rare birds and reptiles is critically endangered itself.

Opened 34 years ago, Kiwi Birdlife Park’s a widely-acclaimed conservation park entirely funded by visitors, who of course stopped coming when the Covid-19 lockdown happened in March.

It reopened two weeks ago, but faces an uncertain future as about 95 per cent of its revenue was from the now-extinct overseas visitor market.

To try to get as much local support as possible, entry to the family-owned park next month will be by donation only

“It seems counter-intuitive that we’re going for a donation rather than paying visitors,” general manager Paul Kavanagh says, “but we just feel it’s a product we’re really proud of, so we want to share that with as many people as we can.

“And we’re hoping that turns into very happy and generous visitors who also tell other people.

“People when they visit us are also directly contributing to managed conservation programmes like our breed-for-release programmes for kiwi, kaka and whio.”

Park operating costs are a mind-boggling $1 million-plus a year, Kavanagh, says, much of it to employ qualified wildlife staff.

“And we can’t corners when it comes to endangered wildlife – we pride ourselves on our animal welfare standards.”

Proof of that came last year when the park became the first New Zealand institute accredited by Australasia’s Zoo and Aquarium Association for providing ‘positive animal welfare’.

“Some of our animals are the rarest in the world.”

On top of operating costs, the park’s also built a replacement state-of-the art kiwi house, with support from Skyline Queenstown, located by the Pinewood Lodge boundary so kiwi won’t be disturbed when Skyline’s gondola development project begins.

“We’ve faced many, many challenges in our 34 years, but nothing like this,” Kavanagh says.

The government wage subsidy has been “an incredible help”, he notes, along with “incredibly” supportive staff who’ve agreed to work reduced hours to help out.

“We’re going to be living hand to mouth, or 100 mouths that we have to feed.

“We’ll be looking at every avenue we can because if we don’t start getting some people through, and some revenue, we may have to close down.

“If visitors don’t start coming before October, I’d say we’ll be in real trouble.”