A much-loved and extremely rare white kiwi has died following surgery, prompting an outpouring of grief among conservationists in New Zealand.
Manukura the North Island brown kiwi hatched in captivity in May 2011 with a rare genetic trait, leucism, that gave her striking white plumage.
She became an ambassador for both the Pūkaha national wildlife centre at Mt Bruce in the Wairarapa, where she lived; and the plight of her endangered species, inspiring stuffed toys, memorabilia and a picture book.
Manukura had been taken to the specialist Wildbase hospital at Massey University in Palmerston North early this month after rangers caring for her at Pūkaha had noticed she was losing weight.
Vets found an unfertilised egg that Manukura was unable to lay. Though their operation to remove it was successful, the bird’s health continued to deteriorate in the subsequent weeks.
Her death on Sunday afternoon was announced on Monday on Pūkaha’s Instagram page: “She will be sorely missed.”
Manukura was the first of three white kiwi that hatched at Pūkaha in the 2011-12 breeding season, causing visitor numbers to the centre to soar. She was given her name, meaning “of chiefly status”, by the local iwi Rangitāne o Wairarapa, who saw the chick as a tohu or symbol of new beginnings.
Jason Kerehi, of Rangitāne, said of Manukura at the time: “Every now and then something extraordinary comes along to remind you of how special life is.”
In a statement from Pūkaha, the iwi expressed sadness at Manukura’s death: “Rangitāne have always believed she was a precious taonga [treasure] and were privileged to have played a small role in her life.” An elder, Manu Kawana, was also able to offer karakia (prayer) in person.
Pūkaha general manager, Emily Court, said the centre was consulting with iwi on ways for the public to pay their respects to Manukura and her “quirky personality”.
For most of her first year Manukura was identified as male, with the eventual discovery that she was female described as “yet another surprise from this extraordinary bird”. In 2012 she was immortalised in a children’s book by renowned author Joy Cowley, who drew a link between the kiwi’s uniqueness and that of every child.
Two years later, Manukura made headlines for “noisily ‘beating up’” her prospective mate. She is survived by her brother Mapuna, who is part of Pūkaha’s captive breeding programme.