It's a long way from the southern climes of New Zealand to the port city of Sochi, Russia -- especially for a creature with no obvious means of getting there. Nevertheless, an endangered (and flightless) kiwi was recently discovered roaming the grounds of a Russian garden some 8,700 miles from home, baffling New Zealand conservation officials about just how it made it all that way. Experts suspect the illegal wildlife trade could be behind the kiwi's big move, noting that one thing is for certain: "It certainly didn't fly there."Following the announcement by Russian media that a flightless kiwi was found romping around such a long way from its native home, New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) officials felt immediate concern for the bird's safety. Kiwis are considered critically endangered, numbering around 50,000 -- but until now, the illegal wildlife trade wasn't usually counted among their threats.
"This is such a strange story, I'm shocked. It baffles me because kiwi are nocturnal and very shy ... I've never heard of a black market involving kiwi," says Paul Kavanagh, a kiwi specialist from Queenstown. "If you don't know how to handle one, they can be very aggressive. If anything were to happen to the kiwi it would be such a shame."
Meanwhile, Russian authorities are speculating that the bird arrived there by less sinister means, perhaps by stealthily boarding a cruise ship; port officials say this isn't possible. Kiwis are known for their sour generally sour disposition and willingness to attack when threatened, further suggesting that it wasn't smuggled as some have speculated.
With that in mind, DoC officials have another guess as what might be going on here, hinting that the whole thing may be prank -- but then again, maybe not.
"We're still waiting to hear back for confirmation and to get some more details, but at this stage it seems unlikely ... but then again, stranger things have happened," Reuben Williams, a DoC spokesperson, told the New Zealand Herald.
Fortunately for the kiwi, if in fact there is one, the climate in Sochi is comparable to that of its native New Zealand, though DoC officials say they're likely to retrieve the animal anyways, whether it got there on its own or not.
Still, it's nice to know that even flightless birds could be capable of flights of fancy.