Project Kiwi: people + science + dedication

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Project Kiwi is the oldest community-led kiwi conservation project in New Zealand. From its base at Kuaotunu, north of Whitianga, the Trust administers an operational area of 2850 hectares [1] on the Kuaotunu Peninsula. People are the key to the success of this project. Trustee expertise, supportive landowners and a dedicated group of volunteers from the Kuaotunu community make this project hum.

The Project area – rugged, hilly terrain, typical of the Coromandel region – is a mixture of DoC administered and privately owned land. In 1996 predator control work was initiated on a 400 hectare block of land. Today “roaming kiwi are monitored, to varying degrees, over about 4000 hectares” and Project Kiwi “operates trap lines … on about 70 percent of the land" [2]

Detail from Coromandel/Whitianga Map in “The Geographic Atlas of New Zealand”. Published by Craig Potton Publishing,  2005. Reproduced with the kind permission of Geographx

Along the Kuaotunu Peninsula’s northwest flank lies the heart-stoppingly beautiful Otama Beach. Just around the corner is it’s popular neighbour, Opito Bay – which is a mecca for boaties and holiday makers over the summer. However the shoreline along its eastern flank is quite different. The indented coastline is made up of rocky outcrops and small sandy bays. It’s more isolated and sees less human activity than the northern beaches. Occasionally boaties will drop anchor and do a bit of fishing or diving. Maybe have the odd beach barbecue -- but that’s about it.

It was in one of these bays, Waitaia Bay, that the Project Kiwi story began. In 1996 Lance Dew approached landowner Warwick Wilson and asked if he would agree to a group of volunteers  setting up trap lines on his land. [3] This was the first systematic effort to protect the dwindling number of Coromandel brown kiwi on the peninsula.

At this point the local kiwi population was estimated to be around 535 birds. By 2010 the population was estimated to be around 600. [4] Five years later the situation looked increasingly positive.

 “In 2015, nearly 75% of the Coromandel brown kiwi lived in areas under active management. The population is predicted to grow by nearly 5% per annum because of the enormous conservation effort on the peninsula… “ [5]

Without Warwick Wilson’s enthusiastic support of Lance Dew’s proposal, who knows how many Kuaotunu kiwi would be alive today.

Kuaotunu kiwi: determined to survive

There are four different taxa or types of brown kiwi. Of these it is the Coromandel brown kiwi that is most at risk. 2015 population estimates for the four taxa show just how precarious their situation is:  Northland (8,200 birds), Eastern (7,150 birds), Western (7,500 birds) and Coromandel (1,700 birds) [6]

The Kuaotunu peninsula has seen a lot of human activity over the years. Gold mining, the felling of kauri, and farming. Repeated intrusions into their territory may have something to do with the characteristics that set the Kuaotunu kiwi apart from other North Island brown kiwi populations. Kuaotunu kiwi are darker in colour than the other taxa.They are also said to have a fighting spirit and a knack for invisibility …

 Bev Wilkinson at Kiwi Encounter says “We all have a laugh on health check days. You always know the Project Kiwi chicks; their feathers bristle up, they growl and snap …"  [7]

Once they are adults more behavioural differences surface. They call less frequently than other birds, move more quietly and are generally much more furtive and difficult to find than brown kiwi in other areas. [8]

This reluctance to give away their position impacts on call survey results. Telemetry gear is now used on nine key listening points – where Project Kiwi know birds live – so that the survey results in these areas are more accurate. [9]


Farm gate on Blackjack Hill. The yellow sign says “Trespass Notice. No Mining Company Access”. The issuing of Exploration Licences to mining companies caused serious concern in the Coromandel. While the threat to the peninsula appears to have passed this time round signs posted on main roads, farm gates and on shop notice boards remain – reminding visitors that resistance to mining activity in the area runs deep and isn’t likely to go away in a hurry

Fact: For a kiwi population to increase, 20% chick survival is the minimum requirement. 20% will maintain a balance between juvenile kiwi surviving and older birds dying of natural causes.

For the first ten years of trapping within the Project Kiwi operational area the mean chick survival was 31%. Pretty good you might say. The current target for chick survival through a combination of trapping and captive rearing is 40%. [10]

The community and it’s volunteers

At the heart of this ambitious, and successful, effort lies the Kuaotunu community. They take their environmental responsibilities seriously here. Small in number but strong in principle, the people in this community wish simply to treat the earth with the respect it deserves.

The values and principles espoused by holistic Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, are subscribed to by many in the local community – which influences the way in which the community functions.

Project Leader, Paula Williams explains

 “There’s a strong focus on organically, locally sourced foods, a lot of barter, a lot of trades, a lot of preserving and utilising [of] windfall fruit, and all of those sorts of things … People are really connected to the soil and what they grow in that soil and what they give to friends and family … There is generally, in this community, a non-poison position because of how they see themselves as part of the land … so in terms of conservation … it usually means that those types of people are prepared to walk trap lines because of that connection. We have got this amazing network of volunteers that do traps as a contribution to their space … we are lucky that people literally put their money where their mouth is … 30% of our trapping effort is landowners and volunteers”  

Lizzie Leckie, a Project Kiwi volunteer, is responsible for maintaining a rat and stoat line along Waitaia Road. When asked about why she became involved her reply was simple

“Because we live here … its part of our lives really … you just want to look after where you live.”


Project Kiwi and its landowners

Administering a conservation area which includes a significant amount of privately owned land could have been a battle had it not been for the eco-friendly mindset of the owners. The Trust supports landowner efforts to control predators on their land by supplying them with resources such as traps, bait stations and poison for the control of possum and rat populations. However, given that mustelids and feral cats are the number one predator of kiwi, Project Kiwi assumes responsibility for the trapping of these species on private land. [11]

Paula says of the landowners

“We provide them with the skills, because most people who purchase in this space are connected to their land so they want to do something for their land as well and so we are just making it easy for them … most people who buy into these spaces … they know it comes with responsibilities. But they are the types of people who assume those responsibilities … its not enforced responsibility…”

Pest control operator Sara Smerdon  tidying up a stoat trap and replacing the Erayz lure


Pest Management: poisons or trapping?

Methods may vary but everyone on the peninsula shares the same goal. Making the peninsula a place where native species are able to thrive

  • On the DOC land 1080 is used in bait stations to control possum numbers
  • Private landowners within the operational area have agreed amongst themselves to use diphacinone (D-Block/D Block extreme) to control rodents control and cyanide (Feratox) for possums. While landowners are left to control rodents and possums on their properties the Trust remains responsible for the monitoring of stoat lines and traps for feral cats on all land within the Project Kiwi Operational Area
  • Project Kiwi has opted to remain as toxin free as possible. While diphacinone (D-Block/D-Block Extreme) is used for rodent control, and cyanide is used on occasion to knock-down possum numbers, all other invasive predators are removed via toxin free methods, such as trapping or shooting



Possum numbers are under control. A possum fur hunter is employed to trap twice a year using leg hold traps

“The contractor has gone through this year. He has covered about 8000 hectares and he comes back on 22nd November and he’ll do another 6000 and then he starts again. But in the Project Kiwi block … maybe just under 3000 hectares, in three weeks he only got 85 possums … “

Visual checks are also used to gauge possum density . Checks are made on a “couple of big trees out the back of Whauwhau and Waitaia … that you know are delicious for possums … we take a photo from the same position, at the same time of year” -- Project Manager, Paula Williams



 A number of pig hunting teams are invited to hunt the area throughout the year. All kills are recorded.



Sara Smerdon is contracted to service the ground based trap network targeting mustelids, once a month. The trap lines are visited 5-7 days after Sara has been through, to clear any trapped animals and reset traps. The lures of choice are Erayz (dried blocks of feral rabbit) and a variety of spray lures, including Lure-IT Salmon.

“Why do we use Erayz?  There's a document out there somewhere that states Erayz is 80% more effective than an egg at luring mustelids to their death.  Mustelids are the Trust's target species for its ground-based trapping effort, so we go with the product that is the most attractive to the species we are trying to attract. Pretty straight forward.  Additional elements we factor in are: palatability, durability and ease of dispensability.  Erayz remains 'live' for about three weeks in ideal conditions, the salt content means it's state is preserved and the way it is stamped into squares means it's easy for the kids to count out and bag for landowners as a paid job.  Easy to remove too.  I suppose the only thing to note is that we do not use Erayz in isolation.  We use it with a lure spray behind the Erayz#8 location so that a scent lure remains if the bait is removed/eaten, plus we place long-life lures … in areas where we have either a high mouse population (bait eaten) or where we have a higher rate of stoat catches.  We also mix it up and turn all of our traps into a takeaway shop for target species from time to time, placing bits of fresh rabbit, mutton fat, eggs, rabbit fur and stoat bedding in … “

-- Paula Williams, Project Manager.

Sara Smerdon preparing to distribute bait stations containing Diphacinone (D-Block/D-Block Extreme)


Feral Cats:  The trap network includes Timms traps which are used to catch feral cats. Traps must be mounted in areas kiwi are known to inhabit. While some trap users widen the opening to allow for the cat’s whiskers Paula says their feral cats don’t appear to be put off by the smaller opening.

“Our Timms traps are in the private block, on the large landholdings where there are no residential areas so its where cats should not be ... we do catch quite a few … maybe 30 a year, which is very high but a lot of them are kittens that we catch in DOC 200s … they push themselves in there because they are hungry – and often you catch one, two [or] three in a row of traps -- but that’s good because you catch the litter.”

Late afternoon on Kuaotunu Beach. Kennedy Bay in the distance.



 Dogs can kill an adult kiwi. Holiday-makers and locals are encouraged to put their dogs through the Avian Aversion Training courses that are offered, free of charge by Sheila Westley, under the auspices of the Trust.

“Sheila runs a couple of aversion training sessions this side of summer and actually during summer as well. We try and get heaps of the locals done before summer … Sheila is just 3km down the road, she’s very accessible and she advertises widely. She’s made up her own little database of everybody from previous years so she rings them up and reminds them … she’s like a dog with a bone … there’s no escape. Because its free, people cannot see that as a restrictor. She’s amazing. She’s really, really good at it and it’s her contribution to the Trust.”

-- Paula Williams, Project Manager


Trial and error = Innovation

Being an independent organisation has had its advantages, in that it has left Project Kiwi free to trial new ideas. Some have succeeded. Others not. The kiwi creche concept that is so successful elsewhere in the country was dreamt up here.  Project Kiwi’s trialling of the concept didn’t work out but it was refined elsewhere and has been a lifesaver for kiwi in other parts of the country. Lance Dew also helped develop the use of dogs to track kiwi.[12]

Bait stations for rats. The one on top has D-Block held in place by a barbecue skewer. DoC 200s will be placed on top 


The experimentation continues. The Trust is currently experimenting with placing DOC 200 traps on top of bait stations for rats. The bait stations are simple and sturdy – they’re made from decommissioned Fenn traps. Holes are drilled in each side, a metal barbecue skewer is inserted, units of D-Block are attached and the skewer is poked through the other side of the box. Insulation tape is used to prevent the skewer being disengaged. The theory is that since rats are a key food source for stoats, stoats may be attracted to the new traps by the smell of the rats … and while they are there they have a look at the DOC 200, with its dried rabbit lure (Erayz) and say to themselves “I want a bit of that”

As Paula Williams says “Its an experiment. It may work. It may not”

If you don’t try, you don’t know.


Pest control and habitat ecology

In 2015, Project Kiwi commissioned Boffa Miskell to carry out a stocktake of flora and fauna in the Waitaia Bay area, on the eastern flank of the peninsula. [13]  Their report identified plants, fish, reptiles, frogs and birds within the Whauwhau/Waitaia area that were either endangered or at risk. This “Habitat and biodiversity inventory” is seen as “the first stage in understanding a whole-of-ecosystems approach to the management of biodiversity on the Kuaotunu peninsula”. [14]

Nikau and regenerating bush at the base of Blackjack Hill


 As the predator numbers on the peninsula reduce, the increasing numbers of birds and smaller animals will require plentiful and stable food sources. The report encouraged a broadening of focus from just protecting kiwi to the development and protection of biodiversity hubs on the peninsula.

A “nursery” area, for both plants and wildlife has since been developed in the Whauwhau Bay area. An intensive network of trap and bait station lines is now in place and it is hoped that this area – which is home to some high yielding native food bearing trees will successfully nurture the next generation of flying native birds.  Labour weekend 2018 was spent filling bait stations with diphacinone (D-Block/D-Block Extreme) in the Whauwhau Bay area. This effort to keep a lid on rat numbers will hopefully give both fledglings and food sources the protection they need over this critical period.

“ … we’ve got 70ha that has a 75m grid bait station network. We pay a contractor to go through the first time. He maintains the tracks and puts out the first application of diphacinone [D-Block/D-Block Extreme]  … then the volunteers go through 7-10 days later to refill the stations with diphacinone [D-Block/D-Block Extreme] The contractor then goes back through 7-10 days later to remove any remaining bait and puts out the prefeed for possums at the same time …

When we overhauled the bait station network  my kids became the “track test dummies” … I have a six year old and a ten year old … they go ahead of me in their “day glos”, they go ahead of me – it’s to check that  the markers are good enough for a six year old to navigate so no-one has to know how to read a GPS …”

Paula Williams, Project Manager    


 The Organisation: Science + People

Project Kiwi actually started out as “The Kuaotunu Kiwi Sanctuary Incorporated Society (KKS). [15] Lance Dew was responsible for setting up regularly monitored trap lines on the peninsula. His innovative bent and sheer hard work laid the foundations for Project Kiwi as we know it today.

Over time the name and governance structure has changed but the purpose has remained the same.

Today Project Kiwi is a robust and flourishing organisation. Whether its science or management expertise, the Trust believes in recruiting the best people available to ensure both kiwi and the organisation itself survive.

Technology and science play a vital role in the Trust’s ongoing enhancement of Coromandel kiwi populations

  • World renowned kiwi expert Dr John McLennan is a founding Trustee [16]
  • Operation Nest Egg”, a captive rearing programme that has been operating since 2004. A heartwarming total of 170 juvenile kiwi have come through the programme since 2005 [17]
  • Translocation of kiwi to maintain the genetic health of brown kiwi populations elsewhere in the North Island [18]
  • The Trust offers opportunities for post-graduate level students to carry out research on kiwi within the operational area [19]
  • Telemetry gear is now being used to get more accurate data during call surveys.

All of which keep Project Kiwi at the forefront of kiwi conservation and pest control. Knowledge gained through these initiatives is willingly shared with others in the kiwi and conservation community.


“Operation Nest Egg” and Genetically Viable Populations

Operation Nest Egg”, the Rotorua based captive rearing programme, has given hope to the protectors of  Coromandel kiwi. Not only are more chicks surviving, a proportion of the 170 juveniles that have come through the programme since 2005 are contributing to the genetic diversity of other brown kiwi populations in the North Island.

Maintaining genetically viable populations is crucial for at risk or endangered species  -- so while some juveniles are returned to the Kuaotunu Peninsula, others are translocated to places like the Hunua Ranges, Motutapu Island and the Biodiversity Block in the Whangapoua Forest where they will enrich the existing gene pools. Similarly the Kuaotunu kiwi gene pool is occasionally enhanced by the inclusion of eggs found on “the fringe and outside of the Trust’s trapping effort”. [20]

Project Manager, Paula Williams demonstrates how the team check eggs are healthy before sending them off to Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua. This particular egg is not viable. Eggs are permeable and vulnerable to bacterial infections. This one was found buried beneath the remaining healthy egg in a kiwi burrow.


Well … that’s about it really

A simple tale about the ways in which predator control is being used to protect the Coromandel kiwi has grown into something much bigger. It is impossible to talk about toxins and traps without looking at the broader picture. Without mentioning the dedication of the community, the contractors, the Trustees and the landowners who make this conservation project operate smoothly on a day to day basis. Not to mention those individuals whose expertise has helped make both the Project and Coromandel brown kiwi, become success stories.

A huge amount of Project Kiwi history has had to be omitted from this story. If you are interested in finding out more about the Trust and it’s back story go to their website or your local library and have a look for Sue Hoffart’s excellent book

“Project Kiwi: how one man’s passion for the land hatched New Zealand’s first community kiwi sanctuary”

It was published to mark the Trust’s 20th anniversary in 2016. It’s an entertaining and informative read – a generously illustrated, colour production. Copies are available via the Project Kiwi website for a very reasonable price …




End Notes

[1] 2018 article “Project Kiwi”

[2] Hoffart, Sue “Project Kiwi”, page 188

[3] Ibid, page 108

[4] Project Kiwi website

[5] Ibid, page 4

[6] Ibid, page 5

[7] Hoffart, Sue, “Project Kiwi”, page 182

[8] Ibid, pages 113-116

[9] Transcript of Interview with Paula Williams 10/10/2018 “ Call surveys are funny things … we have started using telemetry gear in areas where we know there are kiwi … there is a real disparity between the number of birds in front of you in the darkness and the number of birds that actually call.”

[10] Project Kiwi Trust. Business Plan 2017-2018, pages 8-9

[11] Project Kiwi Trust. Business Plan 2016-17, page 7

[12] Hoffart, Sue, “Project Kiwi”, page 113

[13] “Project Kiwi”, Sue Hoffart, page 133. Report name “Habitat and biodiversity inventory”

[14] Project Kiwi website “About us”

[15] Hoffart, Sue, “Project Kiwi”, page 111

[17] Ibid, page 10

[18]  Ibid, page 12

[19] Ibid, page 13

[20] Project Kiwi Trust. Business Plan 2017-2018, page 10



Hoffart, Sue        “Project Kiwi: how one man’s passion for the land hatched New Zealand’s first community kiwi sanctuary”, Penguin, 2016.

Project Kiwi Trust             Business Plan 2016-2017     

Project Kiwi Trust             Business Plan 2017-2018     



Transcript of Interview with Trust Project Manager, Paula Williams on 10th October 2018 at Kuaotunu

Project Kiwi website @ November 2018




Written by Pam McConnochie for Connovation Limited.

Copyright 2018 Pam McConnochie


Date: 22nd October 2018

Region: Coromandel

Subject: Sanctuaries, Kiwi, Erayz

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