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Breeding program to help endangered kiwis

  |   June 18, 2012 at 5:24 PM
WELLINGTON, New Zealand, June 18 (UPI) -- Scientists say a project will see one of the world's most endangered bird species repopulate a part of New Zealand's North Island after an absence of centuries.

The Department of Conservation said 20 young rowi, a species of New Zealand's unique kiwi, will be taken to Mana Island near Wellington with the aim of establishing a new colony outside the bird's South Island sanctuary, Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.

The eggs were taken from a forest in Okarito in the south of the South Island to protect them from predators, and are to be hatched and reared in other parts of the South Island before a New Zealand air force helicopter carries them to Mana Island, officials said.

"We expect that the absence of predator pressure, better breeding conditions and less competition for territories will ensure that the Mana Island rowi produce a high number of chicks that can eventually become part of the home population in Okarito," Conservation Department ranger Iain Graham said in a statement.

The department intends to eventually move the Mana Island rowi back to the South Island when they mature, officials said.

All five species of the flightless bird, New Zealand's national bird, are endangered, scientists said.

The department estimates their numbers have decreased from millions two centuries ago to just 70,000 today.

The decline is blamed on introduced predators such as dogs, cats and stoats, as well as habitat loss, officials said.

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