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‘Koha for kiwi’ – Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park appeals for visitors

May 29, 2020 Attraction No Comments Email Email

Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park usually attracts thousands of visitors every year, and is recognised nationwide for its conservation success stories.

And now it needs New Zealand’s help.

After 34 years of operation, and with the same family at the helm, its international visitor numbers have dried up. Like many others it is targeting its domestic and local markets with great deals and packages to help keep the doors open and wildlife programmes running.

And for the month of June it’s launching an innovative ‘Koha for kiwi’ programme to help raise awareness and keep the wolf from the door.

The Kiwi Birdlife Park is a national treasure — it holds and displays over 23 species of native wildlife as part of nationally-managed programmes, takes part in a number of breed-for-release programmes, and has planted over 18,000 native plants providing essential food and shelter to wild native birds.

How it all started – current owner Paul Wilson with one of the first kiwis at Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park

Park owner and director Paul Wilson says he is “painfully aware” that tourist numbers will be “very, very low” in the coming months.

“While it’s scary to open the gates for koha donations only in June, we recognise that we need to raise awareness of who we are and what we do with New Zealanders who’re being encouraged to explore their own backyard. We have a product that we are very proud of and this is a great opportunity to share it with as many Kiwis as possible.

“We’re not a government funded facility and are completely reliant on visitors and souvenir sales to fund our conservation efforts, while providing the highest level of care for our endangered native wildlife.

“A few months ago we completed a $1million state-of-the-art new kiwi house but partially because of the Covid situation we’re struggling to get the revenue we need to pay for a significant part of the building cost.

“We visited every kiwi house in the country to make sure we built the best, and now have the largest kiwi display house of any Park in the country. Four of our kiwi are scheduled to be released into the wild over the next few months, but we keep some breeding pairs to add to this vital programme.”

Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park during construction

The park is the first New Zealand facility accredited by Australasia’s Zoo and Aquarium Association for providing ‘positive animal welfare’.

KIWI BIRDLIFE PARK HISTORY

Nearly forty years ago, a Queenstown-based garage owner had an unlikely ‘vision’ – to build the resort town’s first birdlife and conservation park on an overgrown piece of wasteland.

Invercargill-born Dick Wilson and his wife Noeleen moved to Queenstown in the 1950s and opened their first garage and shop in Frankton. Twenty years later, Dick, a remarkable visionary, realised customers were asking where they could see New Zealand’s famous icon the kiwi.

An animal lover who was passionate about nature and native wildlife, he knew a piece of land was being used as a dumping site for old cars and rubbish on the edge of town. He applied to the Lake County Council to lease the land and was granted the lease for the land and use of a natural spring in the early 1980s. He was 57 years old when his dream project was given the green light.

One of Kiwi Birdlife Park’s kiwis

After removing several tonnes of rubbish, fencing the entire area, clearing 2m-high blackberry and broom canes, building ponds and removing about  100 huge pine trees, Dick and son Paul built aviaries, the first Kiwi house and a ticket office, planting 10,000 native trees.

They contacted the New Zealand Wildlife Service (now Department of Conservation) to see how they could go about sourcing some birds, and two long and hard years later officially opened for business on January 13th1986. The park is still owned by Paul Wilson and his wife Sandra.

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