American Zoo Offends All of New Zealand Over Handling of Kiwi

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images
Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images

Zoo Miami, in Florida, has come under fire after video surfaced online, showing visitors handling the facility’s kiwi, named Paōra, in a brightly-lit room. The treatment of the nocturnal bird, which is indigenous to New Zealand, caused national and international outrage, with an online petition being organized – even the country’s prime minister weighed in on the controversy.

Entrance to Zoo Miami
Photo Credit: Alexf / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The outrage over the kiwi’s treatment follows several videos being uploaded to social media, showing guests handling Paōra under bright fluorescent lights, despite the bird being nocturnal. In one clip, a zoo keeper is heard saying, “He loves being pet, he’s like a little dog and he loves his head being pet.”

Zoo Miami’s website had previously advertised visitor encounters with Paōra for $25.00 USD. He is the first kiwi to hatch in Florida as part of an initiative with the Smithsonian National Zoo. He was named for New Zealand environmentalist and iwi leader Paōra Haitana, who attended a ceremony after the bird hatched in 2019.

The outrage led Zoo Miami spokesperson Ron Magill to address the controversy on First Up, a New Zealand radio show. During the interview, he admitted to the zoo’s wrongdoing, going so far as to say the facility had “offended a nation.”

“When I saw the video myself, I said, ‘We have made a huge mistake here,'” he told the show’s host. “I immediately went to the zoo director and I said, ‘We have offended a nation. This is something that has to stop immediately.

“I am embarrassed that we’re in this position,” Magill continued. “This was not well conceived when they came up with this plan. The thought was, ‘Well, since the bird is eating and seems very healthy and doing well that this is something that maybe we could do.’ We were wrong.”

Kiwi chick being placed in a plastic container lined with grass
Photo Credit: ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN / AFP / Getty Images

The kiwi is a flightless bird that calls New Zealand home. The size of a domestic chicken, it’s the country’s unofficial National Bird, with its name being used as a moniker for New Zealand citizens since around the First World War.

There are five different species: the great spotted kiwi, the Okarito brown kiwi, the little spotted kiwi, the North Island kiwi and the southern brown kiwi. Over the years, there have been continued efforts to save the species, which is considered endangered and vulnerable, due to urban development and a loss of habitat.

Several sanctuaries have been established to help grow and stabilize the population. Operation Nest Egg, run by the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, collects eggs from the wild and hatches them in captivity, allowing the chicks to be raised in relative safety until they are big enough to fend for themselves in the wild.

Zoo keeper holding two kiwi chicks
Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images

Paōra’s treatment upset people so much that a petition was started to raise awareness over the mistreatment of the kiwi by Zoo Miami, with the aim of reaching 15,000 virtual signatures.

“We have reason to believe that a precious endangered kiwi is being mistreated by Miami Zoo in Florida,” the petition reads. “He has been tamed and 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 behaviour, which is one of the necessary freedoms outlines in the Animal Welfare Act. 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.”

It concludes, “We may not be able to bring Paōra home, but we do have the ability to get him the care he deserves. We hope this petition can reach someone who has the power to spark an investigation into his conditions, and relocate him to a more suitable environment.

“Kiwis are our precious Taonga, not America’s toys.”

On top of the petition, Zoo Miami received several complaints and intervention from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, which said officials would “be discussing the situation” with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the United States.

Speaking with The New Zealand Herald, Robert Webb of Whāngarei’s Native Bird Recovery Centre said the videos show the kiwi in distress. “I don’t think that bird will last long,” he said. “You’ll notice he’s got his eyes closed nearly the whole bloody time when they’re touching him. He’s terrified.”

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins even weighed in on Paōra’s mistreatment and thanked the zoo for its efforts to rectify the situation. “The zoo [has] immediately taken steps to address the concerns that were raised,” he told the media. “They have acknowledged that what they were doing wasn’t appropriate or wasn’t right or wasn’t fair to the kiwi. I thank them for taking it seriously.”

Little spotted kiwi walking in the dark
Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images

“I am profoundly sorry,” Magill reiterated on First Up. “I am speaking on behalf of everyone at the zoo, we give you our word that the public will never handle Paōra again.” He later added in an interview with The New Zealand Herald, “I am so sorry. I am so remorseful. Someone asked how would you feel if we did that to your bald eagle, and you’re 100% right.”

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According to Zoo Miami, a special habitat will be built for Paōra, which will “continue to provide him with the shelter that he needs while respecting and supporting his natural instincts.”


Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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