Sir John Key and Helen Clark team up to save Ardern the kiwi

Sir John Key might not be the most obvious champion for Jacinda Ardern.

But he’s more than willing to set political differences aside for the Prime Minister’s flightless and feathered namesake.

Key recently joined fellow former PM Helen Clark in releasing into the wild a young kiwi named Ardern, to help promote a new endowment fund the pair will serve as patrons of.

Kiwis for Kiwi, the charity behind the fund, hopes to raise around $20m over the next five years to boost the 68,000-strong population of our threatened national bird.

For Clark, releasing Ardern and six other juvenile kiwi into an area of predator-managed forest in Hawke’s Bay proved an extra-special occasion.

“Ardern hatched on the 17th of October last year, which was election day,” said Clark, as she held the bird on its release day.

“The kiwi husbandry team at the National Kiwi Hatchery decided to name the bird Ardern in honour of Jacinda’s victory. So, for me, it’s special to bring this bird back to the forest it belongs to.”

Key added he obviously wanted Ardern to flourish in the forest, but jokingly told Clark: “I think you should probably release it.”

The endowment fund would enable Kiwis for kiwi and its partners to protect current kiwi populations and return kiwi to parts of New Zealand where they once thrived.

Unmanaged populations of kiwi were being lost an estimated rate of 2 per cent each year – equivalent to about 20 each week – and the charity’s executive director Michelle Impey said it was an honour to have the two leaders onboard.

“Kiwi conservation is incredibly important work to the overall identity of New Zealand, and Kiwis for kiwi is proud to work alongside such passionate organisations and individuals,” she said.

“To have two former Prime Ministers from different sides of the political spectrum support us on this really validates the work that we and our partners do day in and day out.

“We’re really excited about what the Kiwis for kiwi Endowment Fund will allow us to be able to do in the future.”

Clark said the pair’s political persuasions didn’t come into supporting the cause.

“It’s always great for people to look for things that unite them,” she said.

“The kiwi unites Kiwis – literally, it’s Kiwis for kiwi. There’s so much we can all agree on, regardless of what our political views are.

“The more leadership that can be given to encourage people to support these incredibly important campaigns, the better.

“Through the kiwi you can raise awareness of native species and conservation generally. If you can save the kiwi, you can save the korimako/bellbird, the tūī, or the pīwakawaka/fantail.

“But the kiwi is the flagship, the one that we identify with above all in the bird family.”

Key said a New Zealand without kiwi was “unthinkable”.

“There’s nothing more iconic for New Zealand than the kiwi,” he said.

“If you imagine a world where there was a New Zealand but no kiwi, we’d be looking at each other and wondering how we let that happen. I’m really looking forward to being part of such an important programme for New Zealand.

“It’s a nice touch, really, having two former Prime Ministers involved. We represent the country and the kiwi represents us, so it’s a nice project to be a part of.”

Last year, Kiwis for kiwi was a recipient of Jobs for Nature funding across five years, courtesy of the Government’s Covid Recovery and Response Fund.

Kiwi conservation groups were encouraged to apply for funding to super-charge existing work or start the journey of bringing kiwi back to their corner of the country.

All funding has been allocated to 11 projects across New Zealand and Kiwis for kiwi is working with the Department of Conservation (DoC) to support and manage job generation and conservation efforts.

Key said the fund would help the organisation create a strong financial foundation to ensure the longevity of kiwi conservation projects, without having to rely solely on government funding or fundraising.

“The Kiwis for kiwi programme is a great example of a strong partnership with the government,” he said.

“This is a very long running programme, so you need long-term funding. It’s great to rely on the Government to a degree but there are also lots of people out there who want to contribute to a cause and give back.”

The fund follows a redoubling of efforts to save the icon over recent years.

In 2017, Kiwis for kiwi launched a programme of work to stock a number of predator-free sites – usually fenced sites or islands – on the North Island with kiwi.

That saw kiwi eggs gathered from the wild, hatched in specialist incubation facilities, then released into these kōhanga sites, where they remained permanently.

Kiwis for kiwi estimated that, within the next decade, more than 1000 birds would be removed each year from these sites are released to predator-free areas.

Under the DoC’s separate recovery plan, there’s been a specific focus on predator control to save the most threatened kiwi species – tokoeka and roroa – with about 222,815ha of land treated.

• For information about the fund and how to donate to it, visit the website.

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