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Wednesday, December 31, 1997 Published at 12:11 GMT


Kiwi could be polished off in 15 years

Rugby players around the world might breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of a world without kiwis but it is the small feathered breed of kiwi that could be dying out, not the very large muscular variety.

Despite government efforts to protect New Zealand's North Island brown kiwi, the bird's future is threatened by non-native predators and the loss of its natural habitat, a Wellington scientist has warned.

John McLennan, of Landcare Research, said the bird may die out completely within the next 15 years. In the last decade and a half, numbers have plummeted from about 70,000 to 30,000.

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A particular threat to the birds comes from stoats, deliberately introduced to New Zealand to control the rabbit population, which are thought to prey on the flightless birds within a month of the chicks having left the nest.

'Absolutely no debate'

Mr McLennan said: "It still may take them more than 15 summers to get to extinction but extinction probably occurs before every one is gone. Once you get down to a density of perhaps one per 10 square kilometres then it may be all over even though there are still a few individuals hanging around," he said.

"We can debate when they are going to reach that point. There is absolutely no debate that they are going to get there unless they are helped."

A short-term solution would be to control stoats for the two months of the year which coincide with kiwi hatchings but the work would have to be done on a large scale.

"We know what we have to do. The reason we are not doing particularly well is because literally there aren't the resources ... it's money. The expertise exists," McLennan said.

The future is slightly brighter for other kiwi species. Populations of the great spotted kiwi and the southern brown kiwi are thought to be stable, although their ranges have diminished.

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