Tuesday, December 8, 2015

in the dark

Last night I learned to focus, and listen. Okarito is home to the Okarito brown kiwi, an extremely rare and endangered species. 
When Ian came to Okarito in 1998 as a backpacker and stayed at the Royal Hotel, there were only 140 or so left. Today, thanks to tireless work by Ian and the DoC, there are roughly 400, half of them tagged. When an egg is laid, a volunteer scoops it up and takes it to the kiwi center, safe from predators. Otherwise a hatched kiwi in the wild stands only a 5% chance of survival. 
Kiwis are nocturnal and extremely shy. They don't see well, so they rely on sound. Ian showed us how to be very very quiet. No photos. No rustling clothes. No sneezing. 
After dark we set out in search of BZ ("Bee Zed") and Beaumont, his lady friend. They are 17 and 18 years old. Ian has known them all of their lives.

We listened to them wake up around 9 pm and snuffle to each other. Then we heard them begin to walk through the bush. We followed a trail to a dell filled with ferns and trees and settled in, as they approached, then evaded us. We waited. 

Ian held a device that looked like an orange TV antenna to help locate them. At one point we heard a shrill cry: BZ and Beaumont calling to each other. The stars came out: Orion upside down! Venus to the east. Then we started to look for Jim, another kiwi. 

But Ian the kiwi whisperer located our couple again. And suddenly after a rustle in the leaves Beaumont appeared in the road right where we were standing, without ever realizing we were there. 

A tiny delicate creature, she came within a foot of Charlotte as she hurried across and vanished into the bush. I hope she's still there in 10 years and 15. Ian said the new goal is population 400, which is a lot more than the town's 20 permanent human residents. 
Walking home at midnight, the stars of the Southern sky were overwhelming too. 

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