The Kiwi is an iconic bird, and it takes an iconic bird to be the most memorable bird of New Zealand, a country with no native land mammals and a vast array of unique avian residents. Even amongst competition like the popular Kakapo and the Kea, two beloved parrots native to New Zealand, the Kiwi reigns supreme.
Perhaps this is due to its unique qualities. The Kiwi is a terrestrial bird with small vestigial wings. Although it may not look like it, the Kiwi is a member of the ratites, making it a close cousin to ostriches and emus. Like other ratites, Kiwis lay enormous eggs. Unlike other ratites, though, Kiwi eggs take up a truly massive proportion of their body size. Kiwis have whiskers, thick sturdy legs, and hair-like feathers. They are truly one-of-a-kind.
New Zealanders tend to identify with the Kiwi. In fact, people from New Zealand often refer to themselves as Kiwis. The Kiwi is New Zealand’s national bird and its most recognizable national symbol. It represents that which is unique about New Zealand. It is not hard to imagine, then, that when a story goes viral regarding the mistreatment of this strange and charming bird, New Zealand’s citizens have a strong reaction.
That is precisely what occurred when Zoo Miami’s advertised “Kiwi Encounter” went viral last month. The experience was marketed as a unique opportunity for zoo guests to get up close and personal with a Kiwi bird named “Paora.” Social media videos depicted Paora being touched and pet by guests.
The response was widespread and rapid. Viewers noted that Kiwi birds are reclusive and nocturnal. Despite this, videos showed Paora being handled by guests and zoo staff beneath bright lights. Some argued that allowing guests to handle Paora was akin to treating this delicate nocturnal bird like a toy for the amusement of human visitors. Amongst New Zealanders, the mishandling of such a dear national symbol sparked outrage.
The intensity and volume of the backlash had the intended effect on Zoo Miami, who issued a public apology in response. Due to the legitimate concerns raised by critics, the Kiwi Encounter has been scrapped and zoo representatives claim that Paora’s care is being reevaluated to ensure that the rare and beloved bird receives the best standard of care. On top of cancelling the encounter, a new habitat is being constructed for Paora with this goal in mind.
The treatment of the Kiwi is of such concern to New Zealanders that Prime Minister Chris Hipkins even weighed in on the topic. When asked for his thoughts after the Zoo Miami issued the apology, Hipkins expressed his relief in seeing the zoo do the right thing and address the public’s concerns.
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