The Department of Conservation will be speaking with a zoo in America after videos shared to social media showed people handling a kiwi under bright lights.
Miami Zoo is home to Paora, a kiwi chick born in Florida in 2019. At the time, it was reported the bird had received its own blessing and naming ceremony and was a “beacon of hope” for preservation of the species.
But videos shared across social media this week have led to concern among some New Zealanders that Paora is being mistreated. The Spinoff first encountered the video on TikTok, but found the same footage being discussed on Reddit and Twitter. The video is captioned “He literally was like a little puppy” and shows people patting and scratching Paora as if it was a pet. Famously a nocturnal bird, the kiwi was being handled under bright lights.
“The person clearly had no bloody clue what they were on about and it makes me quite sad to see our national bird being paraded around for profit,” wrote one person on Reddit. Another labelled it “borderline abuse” and said you should “stroke birds with gentle, light strokes”.
A video of Paora shared by the Miami Zoo on Twitter back in March advertised a “one-of-a-kind encounter” with the young kiwi. “Be warned: once you’ve seen a kiwi, you’ll never forget it,” the video, which again largely showed the bird being observed under light, said. People in the video can be seen touching the kiwi and posing for selfies with it.
Many of the comments under this video are also from outraged New Zealanders and have been posted over the past 24 hours. One person tagged Forest and Bird, who said they were aware of the video and had been in touch with the Department of Conservation.
Across social media, many others said they had complained to DOC. In a statement, a spokesperson for the agency thanked those who had come forward about the video. “We will raise these concerns with Miami Zoo… to try to improve the housing and handling situation,” they said.
The spokesperson said kiwi were a taonga species and the protection and welfare of the birds was a high priority. “In New Zealand, we have specific standards to handle and care for kiwi, both in the wild and in captivity. New Zealand best practice has been developed to ensure kiwi are handled and housed safely and respectfully,” the spokesperson said.
There are, said DOC, about 60 kiwi living offshore, compared with 85 birds in captivity in New Zealand (and an estimated 70,000 in the wild). The offshore population is managed separately from the local kiwi and Paora should be looked after by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which the Miami Zoo is a member.
“The AZA has a progressive, science-based approach to animal welfare. AZA grants accreditation to zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks that have clearly demonstrated their commitment to positive welfare. This approach champions welfare from the animal’s perspective and it underpins all that they do,” said DOC.
We would like to thank everyone who has raised concerns about Paora, the kiwi at Miami Zoo. While offshore kiwi are managed separately, we'll be discussing the situation with the American Association of Zoos & Aquariums to address some of the housing and handling concerns raised.
— Department of Conservation (@docgovtnz) May 23, 2023
While there are several ways to see a kiwi in captivity in New Zealand, none would involve touching or patting the bird. And they would all be under the cover of darkness. At Auckland Zoo, for example, the kiwi enclosure is underground and close to pitch black, so much so that it’s common to miss spotting a kiwi at all. As Stuff noted, the Department of Conservation’s kiwi best practice manual warns that “special care must be exercised when holding and interacting with the birds”.
A petition to help “save” Paora has attracted over 2,000 signatures online.
The Spinoff has approached Miami Zoo for comment.