WELLINGTON - The birth of a rare white kiwi has capped the most successful breeding season since efforts to save the endangered New Zealand bird began at a North Island sanctuary, wildlife authorities say. (Video after the jump.)
The male kiwi chick, named Manukura -- meaning "of chiefly status" in the Maori language -- hatched on May 1 at the Pukaha sanctuary north of Wellington, the Department of Conservation (DOC) said this week.
"As far as we know, this is the first all-white chick to be hatched in captivity," Pukaha chairman Bob Francis said.
Kiwis are normally brown but Francis said birds in the gene pool that Manukura came from had white flecks in their plumage, giving rise to the occasional all-white specimen. He said the bird was not an albino.
It was one of 14 chicks hatched at the sanctuary this year, compared with an average of two a year between 2005 and 2010.
"(We) were blown away by the number of chicks produced so quickly," Francis said.
The flightless kiwi, the avian symbol of New Zealand, is threatened by a host of introduced predators including rats, cats, dogs, ferrets and possums.
DOC estimates there are fewer than 70,000 left in New Zealand, and several sub-species are listed as critically endangered.
The Pukaha sanctuary, established in 2001, is a forest where wildlife officers have laid traps and baits to minimise predator numbers.
The adult birds roam free and any eggs that are produced go to a kiwi nursery, where the chicks are cared for until they are old enough to be released into the forest.
However, because efforts to eliminate feral pests have not been totally successful, DOC said the white kiwi may have to spend his life in captivity.
"To potential predators, white feathers could stick out like a sore thumb," DOC area manager Chris Lester said. "We recognise the need to take that into account when decided how best to keep Manukura safe in future."
Image: Pukaha Mount Bruce