A 19-year-old female North Island brown kiwi named Nessus died Oct. 30 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. She had not exhibited any warning signs of clinical illness and was found dead in her exhibit unexpectedly at the Bird House. Per standard procedure, a necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed the same day. The initial report indicates that aspiration of stomach contents was the immediate cause of death. Additional testing is in progress to identify any concurrent illness or reasons for the aspiration. Kiwis in the wild and in human care can live to be up to 60 years old.
Nessus arrived at the Zoo in April 2005 from the Brookfield Zoo. She participated in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for Brown Kiwi, a program that determines which animals to breed by considering their genetic makeup, nutritional and social needs, temperament and overall health. She and her mate, a 31-year-old male named Maori, produced six chicks. Their offspring were transported to North American and international zoos for breeding, research and as ambassadors for their species.
The Zoo has made important contributions to the brown kiwi Species Survival Plan. The National Zoo was the first institution to hatch a kiwi outside of New Zealand in 1975. Only 16 female and 34 male brown kiwis live in zoos outside New Zealand. Smithsonian scientists are studying kiwi reproduction and hope to learn how to produce kiwi eggs through artificial insemination and solve unanswered questions concerning the reproductive ecology of kiwis.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the North Island brown kiwi as an endangered species. Altogether, the Zoo has eight kiwis in its collection—three at the Zoo and five at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va.
National Zoo visitors can see three kiwis at the Bird House: two adult males, Maori and 40-year-old Toru, and a 3-year-old male named Pip. The National Zoo boasts the nation’s only “Meet a Kiwi” program, where visitors can observe these unique birds up close and learn about the Zoo’s partnership with conservation organizations. “Meet a Kiwi” takes place in the Bird House every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m.
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