The kiwi is New Zealand’s unmistakeable national icon – a bird cherished by all New Zealand cultures and especially treasured by Māori…

Ian Tarei is Kiwi Project Manager for the Omataroa-Rangitaiki No 2 [Maori land] Trust and has been involved with the project since its beginning 10 years ago. 

Two hundred years ago, an estimated 12 million kiwi roamed New Zealand’s forests and the night air echoed with their distinguishable calls.

Today, the kiwi is under threat with the population now numbering in the thousands and up to 27 kiwi being killed every week.  This could mean extinction of our beloved national bird in our lifetime.

Kiwi’s natural habitat is also home to their most voracious predators – the stoat, ferret, feral cat and rats.  Wild and uncontrolled dogs are also an ongoing problem as they are very attracted to kiwi scent and will kill them if found.

More than 95 per cent of kiwi chicks born in areas without predator control are killed before they reach breeding age. But well over half survive in areas where predators are controlled.

In 2000 the presence of Eastern brown kiwi and kārearea (New Zealand’s only native falcon species) was discovered through a survey of Omataroa Forest, prompting the development of a pest control plan which led to the establishment of the Omataroa Kiwi Project.

Rayonier Matariki Forests, who own the pine trees in Omataroa Forest, is a key partner in the initiative, contributing the critical expertise and resource required to carry out the conservation work within the context of a production forest.  The company works with Omataroa Kiwi Project to provide intensive trapping, pest control management and buffer trappings to protect kiwi from predators in the forest surrounding Puhikōkō Native Reserve.

Omataroa Kiwi Project activities include regular predator control, monitoring, catching and tagging kiwi, and participating in Operation Nest Egg – a national programme that involves removing vulnerable kiwi eggs and young chicks from the burrows until they can be safely returned to the wild without risk of predation.

Alongside Omataroa-Rangitaiki No. 2 Trust, Rayonier Matariki is also providing a unique and inspirational learning opportunity for children at local school, Te Kura o Te Teko that focusses on kiwi conservation and the wider biodiversity of Omataroa Forest through an outdoor educational programme.

A partnership between Rayonier Matariki Forests and Omataroa Kiwi Project has provided an inspirational new learning opportunity for children at Te Kura o Te Teko School.

For Rob Schoonderwoerd, District Forester for Rayonier Matariki Forest’s Bay of Plenty region, the survey began a 20 year relationship with the Omataroa Kiwi Project Team and the Omataroa-Rangitaiki No. 2 Trust.

“The development of the local people involved with the project, collaboration between all parties involved, significant improvement in the forest canopy and improvement in overall bird populations from what was present at the time of the initial survey are reflective of the effort that has gone in. To be able to undertake the project within a production forest whilst harvesting and reestablishment operations are carried out illustrates the desire of all parties to make this project a success”

Deputy Chair of Omataroa-Rangitaiki No. 2 Trust, Jane Waldon, says the Trust’s relationship with Rayonier Matariki Forests has really blossomed over the last few years. 

“We share similar values which make for a great partnership.  Rayonier Matariki Forests is very generous with funding for the buffer around Puhikōkō Reserve, and the Texas Rangers programme.  They have also been really supportive of our aspirations to set up an eco-tourism venture based around Puhikōkō Reserve and Te Repo o Ngākauroa, as well as our five year plan to restore the wetland,” says Ms Waldon.

The forest occupies 7,777 hectares of forest area, a mix of exotic production forest and indigenous forest (Puhikōkō) which has been set aside as a Reserve by the Māori landowners.  Puhikōkō Native Reserve is the home of the Omataroa Kiwi Project.

Te Teko local, Ian Tarei, is Omataroa Kiwi Project Manager and has been involved with the project since its beginning 13 years ago.  Ian, who descends from the original ancestors of the area knows the land like the back of his hand and there are few – if any – who could match the passion he holds for its wellbeing.

 A crucial part of his operation is the management of an intensive integrated animal pest control programme and this requires the setting and monitoring of over 1,500 traps in the buffer area surrounding Puhikōkō and 520 traps within the reserve.

Tarei also employs a growing number of local rangatahi, who he teaches trapping, monitoring and bush skills in the hope of instilling in them a sense of guardianship (kaitiakitanga) for their local forests, as well as providing full time paid employment.

“When the Project was established 13 years ago, it was estimated there were only around 30 kiwi in the area but now there are more than 60 kiwi pairs estimated to be in the reserve and many more sighted outside of the reserve.  Around 50 chicks have been released into Omataroa Forest and now there are regular sightings of kiwi which is wonderful,” said Tarei.

To date, the focus of the project has been the bio-diversity rich Puhikōkō Reserve, home to Eastern brown kiwi, kereru and North Island robin. The project also manages the Te Repo o Ngākauroa Wetland restoration, which was initiated in April 2019.

For Rayonier Matariki, New Zealand operations; certified under the PEFC certification scheme for sustainable forest management, managing forestry activities sustainably is fundamental to day to day activities.

Certified by an independent third party certification body (SGS New Zealand Limited), management of stakeholders, biodiversity, the forest ecosystem health and cultural values are embodied within the forest management plan – a key part of Rayonier’s stewardship over the forest canopy.

One of Rayonier Matariki Forests’ core values is “look after the land”, – certification assists us through providing a framework to verify our performance in protecting the future productivity of our forests and ensuring the preservation of biodiversity, soil, water quality, cultural and community values. 

Working with Omataroa-Rangitaiki No. 2 Trust, the Department of Conservation and Bay of Plenty District Council, the project stands as a shining example of cross-cultural conservation and this sustainable business model is now being used in other parts of the country.

For more information about the Omataroa Kiwi Project please visit the Omataroa Kiwi Project page https://www.omataroatrust.com/projects.aspx or check out the Kiwis for Kiwi website; https://www.kiwisforkiwi.org/what-we-do/case-studies/omataroa-kiwi-project/

For more information about Rayonier Matariki Forests and their stewardship initiatives, please visit the Rayonier Matariki website at https://www.matarikiforests.co.nz/

For more information about PEFC forest certification, including Sustainable Forest Management and Chain of Custody certification, please visit the Responsible Wood website.