UPDATED: Budget 2015: Kiwi conservation funding – Expert reaction

More than $11 million of new operating funding for Kiwi conservation efforts, spread over four years,  has been announced in the new budget.

The funding boost aims to to arrest the ongoing decline in wild kiwi numbers, which are falling by 2 per cent a year.

“Kiwi are known around the world as a symbol of New Zealand. They are a famous and precious taonga and integral to our national identity,” said Conservation Minister Maggie Barry in a media release. “If we don’t do more now to halt their decline, we risk losing wild kiwi forever.”

The SMC collected the following expert commentary.

Prof Doug Armstrong, Professor in Conservation Biology, Institute of Agriculture & Environment, Massey University, comments:

“While any conservation funding is indeed good news, it is unfortunate to focus only on kiwi rather than species recovery in general. Kiwi are wonderful charismatic animals that are in overall decline, but this is also the case for most of our native species – for example, it would be great to have more support for conservation of lizards and freshwater fish.

“I fully support increased funding for stoat and ferret control, and support of community conservation groups, as this will have widespread benefit for native species and ecosystems. On the other hand, programmes such as Operation Nest Egg are extremely extensive and may yield little of no benefit other than to kiwi. I also think we need to tap into the excellent work the Department of Conservation has done in recent years to strategically target species recovery.

“To get the most bang for our buck, it would be great if funding were allocated to species recovery in general so it could be allocated where it has the greatest benefit.”

Professor Philip Seddon, Director of the Wildlife Management Programme at the University of Otago, comments:

“It is always good news when conservation gets more funding, and the ongoing decline on our kiwi populations is of concern. The issues facing kiwi are the same as those facing other, less iconic native species, that is, the impacts of mammalian predators and habitat loss.

“However, New Zealand conservation is not only woefully under-funded, the allocation of funding has a bias towards a handful of charismatic vertebrate species. This is to the exclusion of the many thousands of threatened species that receive little conservation attention. While we cannot give up on kiwi, or kakapo, or black stilts, we do need to direct attention and make some serious commitment of resources towards less charismatic species. A continued focus on a handful of high-profile species does not serve the public well – reinforcing the mistaken idea that these are the only species of concern.

“New Zealand’s conservation challenges run deeper than halting the decline of selected single species. It is to be hoped that the injection of funding for kiwi will be used to fund some innovative new tools designed to address core underlying problems, such as how better to manage exotic predators in mainland sites. This would have benefits for many many more species than only kiwi.”

Dr James Russell, Senior Lecturer in Biodiversity, Biosecurity and Conservation at the University of Auckland, comments:

“Kiwi are actually five species and are our national animal, and whereas Australians annually cull their national animal – the kangaroo, the kiwi is predicted to be extinct in one generation, the way 13 species of moa went. We love kiwi so much they regularly feature in recent new flag designs, and a recent study showed over 98% of New Zealanders would derive pleasure from seeing kiwi in the wild. Over 100 years of kiwi conservation efforts, dating back to translocations to islands in the 1890s, have failed to arrest the ongoing decline.

“However, there are locations where kiwi populations are positively increasing due to investment in two major life history traits, birth rates, and mortality rates. Breeding programmes such as Operation Nest Egg have increased the number of kiwi chicks which survive to over 90 days and are able to be released and protect themselves from introduced mammalian predators. At the same time, predator control programmes, focused on the kiwi majors major predators – mustelids and dogs, have reduced the number of kiwi deaths. As a long-lived species, adults are valuable and it can take a long time before a juvenile is able to replace a lost adult.

“The funding announced by the government today characterises a seriously realistic investment in kiwi conservation. Simply tapping around the edges of the problem with minor investments has so far not led to reversing the decline. If New Zealand is serious about conservation, and what species would be more suitable than the kiwi, then we must substantially invest in not only current programmes which are locally successful, but in initiating new programmes across the country.

“Unlike many other of our threatened species now restricted to offshore islands, such as kakapo, kiwi still exist on the mainland. Investing in species conservation before they can only be saved on offshore islands is an imperative, and investing in predator control creates spin-off benefits for all the other native species in the area. Following recent trends by the Department of Conservation the new funding investment will be in partnership with community organisations enabling any New Zealander to participate in conservation of our national icon.”