A zoo in the United States has apologised after a video showing visitors petting the kiwi under bright lights sparked outrage in New Zealand, where it is the national bird. The Miami Zoo said it was “deeply sorry” about the incident, according to the BBC. A few clips posted on social media showed a flightless bird being handled by visitors and kept awake by artificial lighting. The bird seen in the video is Paora, which was hatched in the Miami Zoo in 2019 as part of a breeding programme aimed at ensuring the kiwi species’ survival, the outlet further said.
One of the videos has been posted by Holly Neill, a wildlife photographer. She said in her tweet that it was “appalling” to see a kiwi treated this way.
“It’s being kept awake during the day despite being a nocturnal species. When it runs to hide in a dark box, they open the lid,” Ms Neill said in the tweet.
The treatment of this poor kiwi at Miami Zoo is appalling. I’m so mad about this. It’s being kept awake during the day despite being a nocturnal species. When it runs to hide in a dark box, they open the lid. It’s so upsetting to see taonga treated like this. pic.twitter.com/IDuq4gNN0c
— Holly (@HollyNeillNZ) May 22, 2023
“For $23.36USD, Miami Zoo will let you disrupt a nocturnal, endangered kiwi by forcing it into artificial lighting and allow you to touch it. I’m so upset about the welfare of this kiwi,” she added.
Instances like these triggered protests in New Zealand where the number of these birds has fallen from 12 million to just 68,000, according to Save the Kiwi charity.
An online petition was also launched on change.org to “Help save this mistreated kiwi”. It has so far gathered more than 13,000 signatures.
“He has been tamed and is subjected to bright flourescent lighting 4 days a week, being handled by dozens of strangers, petted on his sensitive whiskers, laughed at, and shown off like a toy,” the petition reads.
“Kiwi are nocturnal animals, who should be kept in suitable dark enclosures, and minimally handled. The best practice manual for kiwi states that they shouldn’t be handled often or taken out of their burrow to be held by the public,” it further said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked the Miami Zoo for taking public concerns seriously.
“They’ve acknowledged what they were doing wasn’t appropriate, or wasn’t right, or wasn’t fair, to the kiwi,” he said at a press conference.
The zoo admitted what happened was wrong and its spokesperson said the practice to let visitors handle the kiwi has been discontinued.