Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kiwi House

On the way home from Tongariro, we stopped at the Otorohanga Kiwi House to view live kiwis and other native New Zealand bird and animal species.

They keep their kiwi birds in little habitats, and they allow visitors to view their feeding times.  We arrived just in time for the kiwis' 1:30 p.m. meal.  Since kiwis are nocturnal, they keep the habitat light during the night to simulate day, and then put on very dim lights for a few hours during the day to simulate moonlight.

Kiwis are the most ridiculous birds.  First, they can't fly.  They look like little wingless dumplings.  They have incredibly strong legs and feet, which they use for digging, scratching, and fighting.  Instead of a reasonable beak shaped like a hook or a bill or maybe a triangular cone, they have two chopsticks stuck into the front of their faces.  Even stranger, they have little nostrils at the end of their bills, instead of at the top near their faces.  They use their chopstick bills to probe into the leaf litter, snuffling around for insects and worms.

Stuffed (dead) kiwi bird from the visitors' center...  the kiwi house didn't allow photography of their kiwis.

And how do they move?  Let me share a brief, ridiculous example.  You can't make this stuff up.

In addition to the kiwis, the place had numerous other species, the majority of which were birds (New Zealand doesn't have any native land animals).

Putangitangi, the sheldrake duck.  This little guy was wandering around like he owned the place.

The pukeko, another of New Zealand's ridiculous flightless birds.

The kaka parrot.  We have a flock of kaka living in the forest next to our house in Tuateawa.  They have a very distinctive, croaking scream.

There were also a few tuatara and some geckos and skinks.  Even though the tuatara looks like a lizard, it's actually a completely different type of animal, from the order Sphenodontia.  In fact, the two species of tuatara are the only surviving members of this order, which flourished at the time of the dinosaurs!

I'm very special.  Also, my eyes look evil.

On the one hand, I was really happy that we stopped at the kiwi house.  I'm sure I never would have encountered a kiwi in the wild, much less a tuatara or some of the rare ducks.  I think that establishments like the kiwi house help foster an attachment to rare animals that you can't get without actually being in the presence of something incredibly alive and incredibly rare.

Having said that, the less rare but far more memorable, sexy, and flashy kiwi birds generated considerably more interest in the American, German, and Kiwi tourists than some of the far more rare ducks and birds elsewhere in the exhibit.  Is this just another tourist trap, albeit in a feel-good form?

Also, I was unclear of the origins of the animals.  I think (or I would like to believe) that all of them live in captivity because they can't survive in the wild, for whatever reason.  Still, it makes me a little sick to my stomach to see wild animals in cages.

I took this picture of a harrier through the mesh of his enclosure.

I went to take another picture, and my camera auto-focused on the bars.

How appropriate?

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