Miami zoo apologises for 'offending a nation' with 'embarrassing' Kiwi offering

Objection to the treatment of the zoo's kiwi leads to calls for him to be brought home.

A Florida zoo has created an international incident over its treatment of New Zealand’s national icon and unofficial national emblem.

Zoo Miami's Ron Magill conceded to local media it had "offended a nation" after offering so-called “Kiwi Encounters” for US$23 ($34). Disturbing video shows the sensitive nocturnal bird being exposed to light so eager tourists could pat it and take selfies.

A still from 1 Breakfast showing Ron Magill interviewed
Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill told 1 Breakfast he felt embarrassed by the situation. Source: 1 Breakfast

After footage of the captive-born bird, named Paora, was shared online, there were calls from New Zealanders to free him. The hashtag FreePaora began trending and almost 10,000 people subsequently signed a petition calling for him to be moved into a better environment.

Outrage was clear in responses online: “This is disgraceful and deeply upsetting to see,” one person wrote. “This is so disrespectful to NZ's Taonga,” someone else added.

Three stills of Paora the kiwi during interactions with tourists.
Paora the kiwi was removed from his home and exposed to fluorescent lights to entertain tourists. Source: Twitter

Quick kiwi facts:

  • Kiwis can live 25 to 50 years.

  • There are only 70,000 kiwis left and that number is dropping.

  • Five species of kiwi exist.

  • They have cultural significance to Maori.

What sparked the Kiwi outrage?

The issue was first raised on Twitter on Tuesday. “The treatment of this poor kiwi at Miami Zoo is appalling. I'm so mad about this,” a New Zealand wildlife photographer wrote.

This led to intervention from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) who vowed to raise the issue with the American Association of Zoos.

How did the zoo respond?

Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill told Radio New Zealand they had “made a huge mistake”. "There's no excuse for exposing a nocturnal bird to bright lights," he said.

“First and foremost, on behalf of everyone at Zoo Miami, please accept our most profound and sincere apology for the stress initiated by a video on social media depicting the handling and housing of “Paora,” the kiwi bird that is presently under our care,” the zoo later said in the statement.

“The concerns expressed by have been taken very seriously and as a result, effective immediately, the Kiwi Encounter will no longer be offered.”

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