Miami zoo apologizes for letting people pet a kiwi: NPR
Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AFP via Getty Images
A Miami zoo has apologized for offering an ‘encounter’ where zoo visitors could physically touch a kiwi, the flightless bird that is a national symbol of New Zealand, after videos on social media sparked outrage.
“On behalf of everyone at Zoo Miami, please accept our deepest and most sincere apologies for the stress caused by a social media video depicting the handling and housing of ‘Paora’, the kiwi bird. which is currently in our care,” the zoo said in a statement on Tuesday.
The concerns expressed “have been taken very seriously and therefore, with immediate effect, the Kiwi encounter will no longer be offered”, the zoo added.
The Kiwi’s encounter with Paora was offered as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will cherish forever,” the zoo’s website said before that encounter was removed. The Kiwi Encounter was previously offered four times a week.
A video announcing the encounter was posted on Zoo Miami’s social media accounts in March.
“Are you ready for a unique encounter? said a voiceover, adding that Zoo Miami was the only place in the United States to offer such a “close” encounter. Footage showed people stroking and scratching the kiwi’s head in a brightly lit room.
A separate video, posted on TikTok by a zoo-lover who had experienced the encounter, showed a trainer luring the kiwi – which is nocturnal – into a dark box, only to open the lid to show it to guests.
Capture international attention
Both videos have since been deleted – but only after they went viral and eventually became national news in New Zealand, where TV stations have repeatedly re-run footage of people handling the bird. An online petition to “save Paora” has garnered over 10,000 signatures after it was posted earlier this week.
In the end, officials from the New Zealand Ministry of Conservation said they would “discuss the situation” with the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums to address concerns.
“I’m not going to make excuses. When I saw the video myself, I said, ‘We’ve made a huge mistake here,'” Ron Magill, the zoo’s communications director, said in a statement. interview given to Radio New Zealand this week.
“I immediately went to the director of the zoo and said, ‘We have offended a nation. This is something that needs to stop immediately,'” Magill said.
A manual of best practice for handling kiwifruit published by the New Zealand Department of Conservation says the “preferred model” for public events with kiwifruit is for people to have their picture taken standing or sitting next to them. of a kiwifruit held by an accredited handler, rather than allowing members of the public to handle it themselves.
“Kiwis are trickier than they look because they lack the sternum and associated musculature that is present in most other birds, which protects the rib cage and vital organs,” says the guide. . “Kiwis should not be routinely taken out of their burrows for the sole purpose of allowing people to see and touch them.”
Zoo officials said Paora’s light exposure, as seen in social media videos, was “minimal but still fake”.
“I’m embarrassed that we’re in this position. It wasn’t well designed,” Magill said.
A brief history of the kiwi
Kiwis have lived in New Zealand for tens of millions of years. The brown kiwi is classified as “vulnerable to extinction” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which estimates that there are around 27,000 brown kiwis left in the wild. Birds struggle to survive to adulthood without human intervention.
The birds are considered a national treasure of New Zealand and the island nation’s indigenous Maori people.
Kiwis are rare outside of New Zealand. A breeding program based at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute provides fertilized eggs to zoos across the United States, including Zoo Miami.
Paora hatched at the zoo in 2019, becoming the first kiwi to hatch in the state of Florida. A naming ceremony that year was attended by Maori leaders Chis McKenzie and Paora Haitana – the bird’s namesake – as well as New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Rosemary Banks.
Having had the “honor” of hosting the ceremony made it “particularly painful” to have offended New Zealanders, zoo officials said.
Paora is now being held in an isolated area where he has a dark place to stay during the day. The zoo plans to build a special habitat that will provide her with shelter “while respecting and supporting her natural instincts,” officials said Tuesday.
“We give you our word: the public will never manipulate Paora again. They will never again be subjected to these kinds of lights,” Magill said.