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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

The birds are particularly vulnerable when being handled because they have no sternum, weak pectoral muscles and ribcage and are injured easily, according to the Department of Conservation’s Kiwi Best Practice Manual.

People must be trained by an accredited trainer before handling them, the manual says, and “members of the public are not to touch the head or bill of the bird.”

The encounters had been offered since October 2022, Magill said. The zoo said in its apology Tuesday that it immediately discontinued them.

“Though Paora has thrived at Zoo Miami while receiving the best care available, the development of the Kiwi Encounter was, in hindsight, not well conceived with regard to the national symbolism of this iconic animal and what it represents to the people of New Zealand, especially the Maori,” the zoo’s statement said. “Having had the honor of hosting the Honorable New Zealand Ambassador to the United States and several representatives of the Maori people during a special naming ceremony here at Zoo Miami, it is especially painful to all of us to think that anything that has occurred with Paora here at Zoo Miami would be offensive to any of the wonderful people of New Zealand. Again, we are deeply sorry.”

In a May 2019 Facebook post, the zoo shared pictures of former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert and Honorary Consul to New Zealand Nancy Gilbert meeting Paora. Nancy Gilbert gave an “official blessing of the bird in the native Maori language,” the post said.

Paora is typically kept out of public view in a quiet environment and shelter that offers him darkness during the day “so that he can, at his discretion, come out and explore his habitat in the quiet of the evening,” the statement said.


The Department of Conservation thanked people in a tweet Monday who voiced their concerns about the encounters. The department responded to one tweet that five kiwi were given to the U.S. years ago to increase genetic diversity in the captive zoo populations.

“While offshore kiwi are managed separately, we’ll be discussing the situation with the American Association of Zoos & Aquariums to address some of the housing and handling concerns raised,” the department said.

A spokesperson for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums said in an email the organization is in contact with “all parties concerned about Paora” and the the zoo “has taken the right steps to assure Paora’s well-being into the future.”

Magill said a new habitat that will suit the animal’s nocturnal behavior is in the early stages of design.

“It will be developed in such a way that we can teach our guests about the amazing kiwi without any direct contact from the public,” the zoo’s statement said.

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