Zoo Miami Is “Deeply Sorry” After Video Shows Guests Manhandling Kiwi Bird

Eva Hagan - Author

May 24 2023, Published 5:05 p.m. ET

Rowi kiwi stock photo.
Source: iStock

Zoo Miami has apologized after a video posted on social media reveals guests petting a kiwi, a nocturnal bird, under bright lights, as part of Zoo Miami's kiwi encounter program offering.

The video generated a large public response, especially from New Zealand, where the kiwi is the national bird, and significant to their natural history and culture. The Miami, Fla.-based zoo has since suspended its kiwi encounter experience.

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Pāora, the kiwi in the video, is Zoo Miami's only kiwi. The kiwi is a flightless bird with brown fuzz often compared to the kiwi fruit, and only native to New Zealand, per the San Diego Zoo.

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Kiwis are antisocial and nocturnal birds, which explains Pāora's visible discomfort in the video while being touched by a group of humans under fluorescent lights. Wildlife photographer Holly Neill, who posted the video clips wrote on Twitter, "It's being kept awake during the day despite being a nocturnal species. When it runs to hide in a dark box, they open the lid."

Just a few hours after the footage of Pāora was posted, outrage erupted across New Zealand and much of the world. A petition began circulating online gaining thousands of signatures, and the zoo began receiving a number of complaints, per The Guardian.

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North Island brown kiwi looking for worms.
Source: iStock

Social media became filled with protests, especially from New Zealanders, who often even refer to themselves as Kiwis. One Twitter user said, "Imagine if we treated the American bald eagle as disrespectfully? This is disgusting treatment of our beautiful kiwi."

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The zoo responded quickly with a statement that it was canceling the kiwi encounter program, and apologized for any stress or offense the video featuring Pāora had caused.

Zoo spokesperson Ron Magill told Radio New Zealand, “I immediately went to the zoo director, and I said, 'We have offended a nation.'"

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New Zealand prime minister Chris Hipkins made a statement saying, “They’ve acknowledged that what they were doing wasn’t appropriate, or wasn’t right, or wasn’t fair to the kiwi," per The New York Times.

“It shows that Kiwis take a lot of pride in our national bird when they’re overseas, and they do take action if they see kiwis being mistreated," Hipkins also stated, as per CNN.

The loud reaction to the video from New Zealand is expected and understandable, where the people are admirably dedicated to the protection of native birds.

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Kiwi sign at Mount Cook National Park
Source: iStock

According to The Guardian, this can be explained largely by the fact that New Zealand is a country that was formed from the breakages of other land masses, meaning the country has few native species of its own, except for their birds. The Indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand, the Māori, refer to the kiwi as taonga, meaning cultural treasure.

Therefore, the kiwi encounter program where customers could pay less than $25 to pet the bird was not only animal mistreatment, but also disrespectful to New Zealand.

According to CNN, Zoo Miami has since expressed plans to develop a proper habitat for Pāora that will allow guests to learn about the kiwi without any direct contact.

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