It may technically be summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but this year folks in New Zealand are set to enjoy a rare white kiwi Christmas -- and doubly so. Earlier this year, conservationists were delighted to welcome into the world the first ever white kiwi hatched in captivity. But this last Sunday, in completely unexpected fashion, a second white kiwi was born, just in time for the holidays. "We were gob-smacked really," says wildlife center manager Kathy Houkamau. "While every kiwi is precious, to have a second white chick is a delightful gift, especially at this time of year."
When Manukura, the first white kiwi, was born at Pukaha Mount Bruce wildlife center last May, it quickly rose to fame as images of the birds unusually snow-white feathers spread throughout the internet. Back in New Zealand, the white kiwi toured the country, raising awareness of efforts to preserve the iconic species. But just when it seemed as though Manukura would be a one-of-a-kind attraction, in comes another, named Mauriora.
So how is it that two exceptionally rare genetic anomalies occurred in such close proximity and just a few months apart. Well, according to the Pukaha wildlife center, the two white kiwis are actually related.
A small number of North Island Brown Kiwi carry a recessive white gene which both the male and female must have to produce a white chick. Department of Conservation captive breeding ranger Darren Page said it was remarkable that two birds with the rare white gene had paired up in 940-hectare Pukaha forest to produce two white chicks over two seasons.
“Both white birds have the same father, who we have identified through his transmitter,” Mr Page said. “We can’t identify the mother but assume she is the same because of the rarity of the white gene.”
Still, genetics dictates that there is only a one in four probability that the two birds carrying the recessive white gene would produce an all-white offspring -- which makes the new arrival all the more unlikely, and the surprise all the more delighting.
It's fitting then that this little marvel of nature would come at a time when folks are counting their blessings as the two rare white birds will surely be counted among them -- particularly for Houkamau and the rest of the committed staff working to preserve New Zealand's iconic bird:
“We thought Christmas had come early in May when Manukura arrived but now it’s come twice.”