Kiwi-shaped dog-chew removed from New Zealand shops after conservationists complain

The toy was pulled from the shelves of Mitre 10 outlets after anger from conservationists
The toy was pulled from the shelves of Mitre 10 outlets after anger from conservationists

A chain of hardware shops in New Zealand has had to withdraw a fluffy dog chew toy in the shape of the kiwi, the country’s unofficial national emblem.

The toy was pulled from the shelves of Mitre 10 outlets after anger from conservationists, who pointed out that flightless kiwis are particularly vulnerable to being attacked and killed by domestic and feral dogs.

Offering for sale a kiwi-shaped toy that is specifically designed for dogs to chew was inappropriate and insensitive, they said.

The stuffed grey toy, which sports a jaunty Father Christmas hat, was no longer on sale in shops on Friday or available on Mitre 10’s website.

“We’re really fighting hard to keep kiwi safe from a number of pests and predators out there, one of which can be a roaming dog or a feral dog. So to promote that it’s okay for a dog to have a kiwi in its mouth isn’t the right message we want to be sending to dog owners,” said Michelle Impey, chief executive of Save the Kiwi, a conservation group.

She conceded that the toy did not strongly resemble real-life kiwis, which are fluffy brown balls of feather with slim beaks.

“We’re under no disillusion that by a dog chewing this, it’s going to train it to attack kiwi in the wild. It’s not that. It’s the optics of it,” she told Radio New Zealand.

“We’d just prefer it wasn’t a threatened species that we’re working hard to protect.”

Birds in New Zealand evolved without any natural predators. Since settlement by the British in the 19th century, many species have been badly decimated, and in some cases driven to extinction, by introduced predators such as dogs, cats, stoats, weasels and rats.

There are estimated to be fewer than 70,000 kiwis in the wild in New Zealand, with dogs one of their main killers.

“Kiwi can’t fly, have under-developed wing and chest muscles, and lack a sternum [breastbone]. This makes them particularly vulnerable to crushing injuries, such as those caused by dog bites,” says New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. “The biggest threat to kiwi chicks is stoats, and to adult kiwi it’s dogs. Cats also kill kiwi chicks, and ferrets frequently kill adult kiwi.”

Gradual decline

The population of kiwis has been declining by around two percent each year – which amounts to around 20 each week.

There are five species of the bird, including the brown kiwi and the little spotted kiwi.

The kiwi is New Zealand’s unofficial national emblem but that did not stop the British comedian John Oliver from poking fun at it last month. Intervening in a competition to decide New Zealand’s most charismatic bird, he said the kiwi resembled “a rat carrying a toothpick”.

He was successful in lobbying for the pūteketeke, which is also known as the Australasian crested grebe, to be elected winner of the contest. The comedian launched his light-hearted campaign after finding a loophole in the rules of the contest, which allows anybody with a valid email address to cast a vote, whether they are from New Zealand or not.