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Zoo Miami discontinues 'Kiwi Encounter' and apologizes to New Zealand after online backlash

Angie DiMichele, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — Zoo Miami has stopped offering its “Kiwi Encounter,” where guests could pet, feed and photograph the rare, flightless bird after viral video on social media sparked outrage over the treatment and handling of the bird named Paora.

Kiwi, an icon of New Zealand and highly regarded in Maori culture, are endemic, meaning they are only found in one place in the world. Their closest relatives are the extinct elephant birds that were native to Madagascar, according to a fact page authored by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. About 70,000 kiwi are left in the world and 2% of the wild population is lost each year — about 20 every day, the site says.

At Zoo Miami, guests were allowed to encounter Paora once a day, four times a week for about 15 minutes, Ron Magill, a spokesperson for the zoo, said in an email. Paora hatched in May 2019, becoming the first kiwi to ever hatch in Florida.

“The Kiwi Encounter entailed being able to feed the kiwi, touch/gently pet it, and photograph it as it was placed on a platform in front of guests who paid an extra $25 each for the encounter,” Magill said. “At least one and often two zookeepers would be present to provide facts about the individual bird and the species as a whole and to answer any questions.”

Radio New Zealand shared video posted online that shows the bird sitting on top of a table as it is fed a worm and pet on its head in a brightly lit room.

“He loves to be in the dark and go back to sleep,” a zookeeper is heard saying in the video.


The independent radio station reported that the bird is named after Maori leader and environmentalist Paora Haitana, who went to the zoo to visit the bird in 2019.

“It goes against our cultural understanding of the bird … It goes against everything the bird was given to them for. It was given to them to be put in an enclosure that was in semi-darkness … It’s a nocturnal bird and under bright lights, the bird eventually will be blind, I believe,” Haitana told Radio New Zealand.

An online petition called “Help Save This Mistreated Kiwi!” with more than 13,000 signatures Wednesday said the encounter was problematic because Paora “is subjected to bright fluorescent lighting 4 days a week, being handled by dozens of strangers, petted on his sensitive whiskers, laughed at, and shown off like a toy.”

“Kiwi are nocturnal animals, who should be kept in suitable dark enclosures, and minimally handled. He is unable to exercise natural behavior, which is one of the necessary freedoms outlined in the Animal Welfare Act,” the petition said. “The best practice manual for kiwi states that they shouldn’t be handled often or taken out of their burrow to be held by the public. He is kept awake during the day, with only a small box in a brightly lit enclosure to mimic his natural underground habitat.”


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