New Zealand’s iconic kiwi birds need a boost. The five species of these flightless birds (all from the genus Apteryx) have been on the decline for the past century and—despite intense conservation efforts—continue to lose about 2 percent of their total populations per year. Today only about 70,000 kiwis remain on Earth.

Can that decline be turned around? A nonprofit called The Kiwi Trust (which goes by the name Kiwis for kiwi) thinks so. A new report commissioned by the organization finds that an investment of less than $850,000 per year on top of what the New Zealand government already contributes to kiwi conservation could yield an annual 2 percent population growth rate through 2030.

New Zealand recently increased its kiwi conservation budget, pledging about $7.3 million over the next four years, a figure that includes $4.4 million in the fourth year. After that the government will continue to contribute an additional $4.4 million per year. That’s not quite enough, according to the new report, which says a little bit of extra money will push efforts over the top. Kiwis for kiwi says it will be able to raise the rest through public donations, philanthropy and corporate sponsorships.

Collecting that money may be the easiest part of the process. Kiwi conservation, you see, is hard work. The kiwis facing the worst declines inhabit remote, rugged parts of New Zealand where few people live, so the implementation of protective measures at such sites will be expensive. Controlling invasive species such as European stoats (Mustela erminea) and feral cats and dogs—the main causes of the kiwis’ decline—is a labor-intensive process that involves either trapping or poisoning the predators every few years to keep their populations low. According to Kiwis for kiwi, chicks born in areas without such control have less than a 5 percent survival rate.

On the flip side, ongoing work shows that kiwi population growth is possible. The rarest—and most protected—kiwi species and populations are already increasing 2 percent or more per year on average. Some of those, such as the little spotted kiwi (A. owenii) live in sanctuaries on predator-free islands that are part of the New Zealand archipelago, after being wiped out on the mainland. Others depend on a program called Operation Nest Egg, in which biologists remove eggs from nests and raise chicks in captivity until they are large enough to defend themselves from most predators.

There’s still a long way to go to bring that 2 percent growth rate to all of the birds. Only 24 percent of all kiwis benefit from either antipredator or egg-protective management programs. The least protected is a subspecies called the Stewart Island southern brown kiwi (A. australis lawryi)—only about 2 percent of its population is managed. That leaves a lot of room for growth.

The conservation plan has some flexibility. The report presents multiple scenarios involving changing predator-control methodologies depending on when and how much funding is available and how much effort is put in by volunteers. Obviously some of that money and manpower may never materialize, as is always the case with conservation. Even under the worst-case options, though, Kiwis for kiwi says it’s possible to at least stabilize all kiwi populations. After a century of decline that’s good news indeed and cause for hope.

Photo by David Craig. Used under Creative Commons license

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