Zoo Miami Apologizes to New Zealand after Kiwi Encounters controversy

Amid concerns by the government of New Zealand, Zoo Miami will stop the Kiwi Encounters, an appointment-only event allowing people to have hands-on time with a kiwi, a rare flightless bird species native to New Zealand. 

For over a year Zoo Miami held the Kiwi Encounters, activities allowing limited members of the public to interact with Paora, a kiwi obtained by Zoo Miami through a partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum in 2019. 

Paroa is the first kiwi hatched in South Florida, and has been praised as a landmark in the preservation of New Zealand’s endangered species. 

Now, the New Zealand Department of Conservation raises concerns about the treatment of this specimen after a video shared on Twitter sparked public outrage in the country.   

“It’s being kept awake during the day despite being a nocturnal species (…) It’s so upsetting to see taonga [Māori_word referring to cultural treasure] treated like this,” said Holly Neil, a nature photographer from New Zealand. 

In an interview with SFMN, Cindy Castleblanco, head of communications of Zoo Miami, explained that the program was designed with the health of the kiwi in mind. 

The limited program allowed people to interact with the kiwi for a maximum of 15 minutes, after which it would return to its regular habitat. 

Still, Castleblanco says that Zoo Miami understands the cultural importance of the kiwi for people in New Zealand and apologizes for creating the program in the first place. 

“People of New Zealand were offended by us offering this encounter, so we immediately pulled it,” she said. “We don’t want to offend a nation like we have, so we apologized to them. We had a big outcry from the New Zealand community so we admit that it was wrong.” 

Samuel Larreal is a Venezuelan journalism student with a concentration in political science and international relations. He is interested in reporting on human rights, immigration and civic freedom.