National | Kiwi

'Huge mistake' - Miami zoo cancels kiwi encounters after outcry over treatment

Photo / RNZ.

Kiwi encounters at Zoo Miami have been cancelled after disturbing footage emerged of visitors handling the bird under bright lights.

In the video the zoo posted to social media, visitors surrounded the kiwi as he sat on a table under bright lights, despite being a nocturnal creature.

The keeper in the video said "He loves being petted, he's like a little dog and he loves his head being petted."

The Department of Conservation had said it was taking its concerns to the zoo over how the bird was being treated.

Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill told RNZ's First Up the zoo were wrong and had "offended a nation".

The bird was named in honour of New Zealand environmentalist and iwi leader Paora Haitana, who was part of a delegation that visited Zoo Miami for an official ceremony after the kiwi hatched in 2019.

Nocturnal bird

Haitana told Checkpoint the bird should have been kept in darkness, and he was worried it would have damaged eyesight.

He said it was his understanding that the bird would be looked after in a way that was consistent with how they were cared for in New Zealand.

"It's a taonga and absolutely it was given in good faith that it would be managed, controlled and looked after by Miami Zoo, so it's a concern, huge concern."

The zoo's website had advertised the kiwi encounters for US$25 as an experience guests would "cherish forever."

Overnight, the zoo announced it had taken the concerns expressed very seriously and the kiwi encounter would no longer be offered - effective immediately.

"When I saw the video myself, I said 'we have made a huge mistake here," communications director Ron Magill told First Up.

"I immediately went to the zoo director and I said 'We have offended a nation. This is something that has to stop immediately.'"

Zoo apologises

"I am embarrassed that we're in this position. This was not well conceived when they came up with this plan. The thought was 'well, since the bird is eating and seems very healthy and doing well, that this is something that maybe we could do'," he said.

"We were wrong."

"There were very valid concerns about being exposed to the lights - this is a nocturnal bird. I will say that the exposure to the lights was minimal but still wrong."

The kiwi was now kept in an enclosure with no public contact, and was not exposed to any fluorescent lights.

"I am profoundly sorry, I am speaking on behalf of everyone at the zoo, we give you our word that the public will never handle Paora again."

"We listened to everyone who wrote to us - and there were a lot."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said she wanted to know if New Zealanders showed as much concern for kiwi in Aotearoa as they had for the kiwi in Miami zoo.

"Are we as concerned collectively of Paora at Miami Zoo, as we are about our own kiwi here?" she asked. "I hope ... this conversation about Paora in Miami zoo can also turn our attention more heavily to how we look after our kiwi and our wildlife as well."

- RNZ.