Tourism: A Problem or a Solution?

The tourism industry in New Zealand is booming.  More and more people are flocking to explore that part of the world.  What does this influx of humans mean for Kiwi populations?  Humans are no longer viewed as the greatest threat to Kiwi populations, though that was thought to be the case for a long time.  The top spot has gone to mammals such as rats, stoats, and cats that have been introduced to New Zealand over many years and have thriving and growing populations.  Humans are now viewed as the Kiwi’s biggest protector.  The tourism industry has played a crucial role in raising awareness about the plight of the Kiwi and attracting visitors to one of twenty-five opportunities to see Kiwis in captivity or in the wild.  Tourism in New Zealand has not only provided exposure to the plight of the Kiwi, but the advertising involved presents a source of revenue that can then be used towards Kiwi conservation efforts.

The consumer culture in New Zealand has placed great emphasis on the social and cultural value of their environment.  Included in their environment are their seventy-three native bird species.  The Kiwi is perhaps the species with the most conservation attention surrounding it, due to it’s status as a national icon.  The tourism industry has capitalized on the well-known and recognizable face of the Kiwi and used the flightless bird to attract visitors and attention to New Zealand.

As made evident by this 100% Pure New Zealand tourism video, the tourism industry focuses on using the natural wonders of New Zealand to attract and entice visitors.  Little reference is made to nightlife or luxury travel and emphasis is placed on adventure activities, natural beauty, and the unique species that can be found in New Zealand.  The Kiwi is often featured as one of the unusual and endemic species that can be found in New Zealand and serves as more incentive for visitors to come to the island: the Kiwi can’t be found anywhere else.

Another part of the tourism industry that utilizes the Kiwi and it’s endangered status is the various wildlife parks and Kiwi specific conservation centers that exists all over the country.  Here, visitors have the opportunity to get up close and personal with this bird, since spotting them in the wild has become next to impossible.  For example, the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch advertises a “kiwi guarantee” to visitors.  By doing this, they can attract visitors to the reserve by promising the opportunity to see the Kiwi which is no longer common outside of these parks and reserves.  This facility, like many others, is sponsored by New Zealand tourism and the revenue made from ticket sales at the majority of places like this are used to fund further conservation efforts and research regarding many of New Zealand’s endangered species.

Image courtesy of sciencelearn.org.nz

Image courtesy of sciencelearn.org.nz

The New Zealand Department of Conservation plays an integral role in the tourism industry.  They are also some of the most important players on the frontline in the fight to protect the Kiwi.  The DOC’s goal when it comes to Kiwi is, “to restore and, wherever possible, enhance the abundance, distribution, and genetic diversity of all Kiwi species.”  One of the most widespread and popular ways through which the DOC works towards this goal is through the establishment of Kiwi sanctuaries.  Currently, there are five DOC controlled Kiwi sanctuaries in New Zealand: three on the North Island and two on the South Island.  Through advertising and the media, the DOC spreads awareness of the Kiwi while simultaneously promoting these sanctuaries and increasing the number of visitors they receive each year.

Image courtesy of scoop.co.nz.

Image courtesy of scoop.co.nz.

Other efforts on the part of the DOC include programs such as the Battle for our Birds.  This program focuses on predator control.  Tourists and locals can get involved in these efforts through media packs that included materials used to educate and raise awareness about the DOC’s efforts.  The DOC is one of the most trusted organizations in New Zealand and is also one of the most recognized when it comes to tourism.  The DOC is in charge of maintaining the popular ‘Great Walks’ that are frequented by thousands of visitors each year.  They are involved in preservation of lands, species, and the New Zealand national icon, the Kiwi.  Their efforts are integral not only in raising awareness about the Kiwi on a local level, but also on a national one, and ensuring that the public and tourists alike remain interested and invested in the success of the Kiwi’s comeback.

Photo courtesy of New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Photo courtesy of New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Tourism remains one of the largest and most successful industries as well as one that is growing rapidly.  The number of people traveling to the country has been on the rise in recent years, and in turn, the number of people who have been exposed to the battle to save the Kiwi has grown.  Tourism and the media surrounding it play an integral role in the fight to save the Kiwi by expanding engagement, knowledge, and interest through various media outlets.

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“Save our Poor, Innocent, Adorable, National Symbol”

The title of this blog post is not an actual headline regarding the Kiwi, though it sounds very similar to many that do exist.  The Kiwi has been portrayed in New Zealand as not only an endangered bird, but as a national icon, a symbol of their country, that is in dire need of protection.  The media has placed the kiwi within a field of meaning that evokes pity, adoration, and pride.

kiwi flag

Image courtesy of flagworld.co.nz

Perhaps the most important way in which the media has framed the issue of saving the Kiwi is by making the Kiwi bird a national icon.  Both mainstream media and advocacy groups consistently urge the public to aid in the efforts to save the Kiwi from extinction by appealing to their national pride and suggesting that this bird is a national icon and is as much a part of their national identity as their accents.  They do this through images that show the New Zealand flag and the kiwi as one or through multimedia outlets that display New Zealanders themselves interacting with and speaking about the Kiwi.  The most powerful public figures in New Zealand also regularly take part in campaigning for the Kiwi.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key holding a Kiwi during a "Kiwis for Kiwi" campaign event.  Photo courtesy of the Auckland Now

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key holding a Kiwi during a “Kiwis for Kiwi” campaign event. Photo courtesy of the Auckland Now

This endorsement by powerful public figures only strengthens the movement behind the Kiwi and appeals to many citizens of New Zealand.  These are people in power in whom much trust is placed.  If they care about this bird, so should I right?

Another framing technique used by the New Zealand mass media when it comes to the kiwi bird is pulling on the publics’ heart strings.  Everybody loves this cute little bird and pities the peril it is facing.  In this light, the Kiwi bird is portrayed as the victim, and everything that threatens it’s survival is the enemy.  The media does this is several ways.  They have published pictures of dead Kiwi birds that were eaten by cats in an effort to encourage residents to not allow pets to roam outside.  They have shared statistics about how only 5% of Kiwis that are born will reach adulthood, complete with adorable pictures of Kiwi chicks.  They have even created campaign videos in which children are used as the means by which the message is conveyed.

In this video, children are featured talking about what they know and like about Kiwi birds.  Their responses are nothing less than adorable, and are key in evoking an emotional response that in turn makes viewers want to save these birds to ensure that our children do not grow up without Kiwi.  This video was one part of a large advocacy campaign that utilized children to appeal to the masses to get the message across.

Mainstream media also utilizes partnerships with large businesses and organizations that are easily recognizable to get the message across that the Kiwi need to be saved.  By framing this issue with the help of major name businesses, the media can successfully suggest that these large businesses that are very influential and powerful support the Kiwi, so should you.

These frames together shape the discussion regarding policy and what should be done about the Kiwi’s predicament.  With the help of each of these different framing tools, the debate as to whether putting effort towards saving the Kiwi has basically ended.  Virtually the entire country is on board with saving their national icon.  The main debate now that the media is taking part in is how should the problem be addressed.  How can the Kiwis be saved most effectively?  These different framing techniques portray how different sources believe the problem is best addressed, whether it be through fundraising, scientific research, or advocating to the masses.

The media in New Zealand has worked very hard to ensure that the Kiwi bird is one of the things that pops into mind when thinking about the country.  The Kiwi has become an integral part of being a New Zealander and has become a substantial part of their national identity.  New Zealand natives are even referred to as “Kiwis”.  The Kiwi bird is cute and unique and quirky and has been portrayed by the media as being worth saving because of all of these factors.  The framing of the Kiwi as a national icon, a victim, and an adorable, strange little bird have all contributed to the rise in popularity of Kiwi conservation.

Photo courtesy of kiwibird.org.

Photo courtesy of kiwibird.org.

Mainstream Press vs. Advocacy Campaigns: Setting the Public Agenda

In the United States, it is no secret that environmental issues are talked about very differently in sources such as the New York Times and through advocacy campaigns published by organizations such as WWF or GreenPeace.  The same is true across the globe when it comes to coverage of a New Zealand treasure, the Kiwi bird.  In this post, I want to examine the differences between how much coverage on the preservation of the Kiwi exists in both media outlets, including with what urgency and frequency they are discussed.

The New Zealand Herald is a daily publication out of Auckland, New Zealand.  It has the largest newspaper circulation of any publication in the country.  Both their print and online publications cover a wide variety of topics from the region, including politics, entertainment, sports, world news, and opinion.  The Herald is a good representation of mainstream New Zealand press.  A search of the term “Kiwi bird” on the NZ Herald website returns over 1000 results ranging from stories about wildlife parks to coverage of two chicks hatching in a local forest.  However, despite this relatively heavy coverage of Kiwi related topics, there seems to be a lack of coverage regarding protecting the endangered birds.  While the New Zealand Herald is certainly a prominent news source, their coverage of the Kiwi in terms of preservation and protection is lacking.

Photo Courtesy of New Zealand Herald

Photo Courtesy of New Zealand Herald

The above photo is from a news story that ran in the New Zealand Herald in November of last year.  It discussed how German Chancellor Angela Merkel met a Kiwi bird during her visit to New Zealand.  The bottom line of the story: the Kiwi made her smile.

The Wairarapa Times-Age is another New Zealand publication.  It is the regional daily publication for the Wairarapa region.  The Times-Age is similar to the Herald in that they too cover a good deal of kiwi news, but only a handful of stories focus on the efforts to save the Kiwi.  One article, ran last November as well, was all I could find that had any mention of efforts to preserve the species or its habitat.  The story had less of a news feel and more of a op-ed or opinion piece feel.  While it was supported with facts about the state of the Kiwi, the majority of the article focused on encouraging the population to “get behind the fight to save the Kiwi” and referred to the bird as a “national emblem” and a “trading brand”.

Hatching Kiwi chick at Pukaha Mt. Bruce.  Photo courtesy of Wairarapa Times-Age

Hatching Kiwi chick at Pukaha Mt. Bruce. Photo courtesy of Wairarapa Times-Age

There is no question that mainstream news coverage of the Kiwi exists, which is good news as far as prominence goes.  The bird is mentioned frequently in many types of articles.  However, the nature of the articles concerning the Kiwi is often less about protecting the species or the dire straights that they are in and more about which world leader smiled because she met one.

On the other hand, advocacy campaigns are less prominent forms of media in New Zealand and are viewed by a smaller number of people, but they focus heavily on efforts to save the Kiwi.  Where mainstream news can choose what to cover, Kiwi advocacy campaigns are all Kiwis, all the time.  Kiwis for Kiwi aims to “bring together all New Zealanders as Kiwis for kiwi to save our national bird”.

Photo courtesy of Kiwis for Kiwi

Photo courtesy of Kiwis for Kiwi

Kiwis for Kiwi utilizes research, habitat protection, and advocacy tools in order to spread awareness and interest in the status of the Kiwi.  The organization is sponsored by a large New Zealand bank, BNZ.  These sponsorships and their work with the Department of Conservation attract attention from the public by increasing funding and credibility.  Some of the advocacy tools they use include BNZ Operation Nest Egg, which pulls at the public’s heart strings by allowing them to get up close and personal with a Kiwi, and their annual Save Kiwi Week.

Mainstream news coverage is a very prominent source of media.  However, because they can choose their coverage, important Kiwi stories are often not at the forefront and do not get published that often.  Kiwi advocacy campaigns have the advantage of frequency and only covering Kiwi protection.  But, they are not the most prominent sources and likely do not have as large or widespread an audience as mainstream news.

Both the New Zealand mainstream press and Kiwi advocacy campaigns cover the Kiwi’s plight, although it is clear that the most frequent coverage comes from advocacy groups.  The prominence of sources such as the New Zealand Herald and their ability to reach audiences large and wide make them at an advantage when it comes to the number of people who are likely seeing their coverage of the Kiwi.  However, Kiwi lovers and protectors are more prone to following the coverage of advocacy campaigns that cover only Kiwis, all the time.

An Introduction to the Kiwi

When you think of New Zealand what comes to mind? Usually it’s the accents, Lord of the Rings, and sometimes, the Kiwi bird. The Kiwi is a flightless bird native to the island nation. Over the years, the Kiwi has become such a national emblem of New Zealand that the native people are now referred to as “kiwis”. Because New Zealand has no native land mammals, the two islands used to serve as the perfect sanctuary for these somewhat evolutionarily disadvantaged birds. However, since the country was first settled and explored by humans, non-native species such as rats, stoats, cats, and ferrets, have posed a serious threat to the Kiwi population and have nearly driven them to distinction. There are five different species of Kiwi native to New Zealand, all of which are now endangered and two of which are critically endangered.

Photo courtesy of Roughguides.com

Photo courtesy of Roughguides.com

ABOUT THE KIWI The New Zealand Department of Conservation, Te Papa Atawhai, highlights some of the attributes that make this little bird so interesting. Kiwis are nocturnal forest dwellers and make their daytime nests under dense vegetation, in burrows, or inside hollow logs. They have a unique, long beak which is the only of it’s kind that actually has two nostrils at the end. They use this tool to probe into the ground while searching for fruit or small invertebrates to eat. Kiwis have also surprisingly long lives and can live anywhere from twenty-five to fifty years. Female Kiwis also have the pleasure of carrying an egg that averages about 15% of their body weight, the largest egg to body ratio of any bird. Kiwis, like humans, apparently believe in soulmates and mate for life (aww!) Because Kiwi do not fly, their feathers are also vastly different from those of other birds. Most birds’ feathers are designed with hooks or barbs that allow them to fly without expending large amounts of energy. Kiwi feathers, on the other hand, are hair like and shaggy. They are warm, hang loosely away from the Kiwi’s body, and are much, much fluffier. The Kiwi have become a national icon for New Zealand. They are unique, beautiful, a little bit quirky, and pretty hard to find, much like New Zealand itself.

Photo courtesy of forums.sherdog.com

Photo courtesy of forums.sherdog.com

THREATS TO THE KIWI According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, NZ is losing about 2% of it’s Kiwi each year. This equates to about twenty-seven Kiwi lost each week. As mentioned earlier, every species of Kiwi is endangered, but on various levels.  The biggest threat to Kiwi chicks are stoats, a ferret-like rodent that is not native to New Zealand.  In most areas of the country, stoats alone are responsible for half of all Kiwi chick deaths.  Adult Kiwis are frequently under siege by domesticated dogs.  All species of dog are equally attracted to the strong scent of the kiwi and are capable of killing them.  Even if the intention to kill is lacking, a seemingly harmless dog bite can be detrimental to a Kiwi due to their lack of a sternum, leaving their ribcage ever vulnerable.  Even though they do not eat Kiwis like stoats, rats pose a different threat by competing with Kiwi for food.  There are other threats to Kiwi populations besides predation.  Habitat loss, motor vehicles, and small population size and distribution are all damaging to Kiwi populations.  And if this wasn’t enough, here’s some cold hard facts.

  • About half of all Kiwi eggs fail to even hatch, mostly due to bacteria or the adult being interrupted by a predator
  • Of those that hatch, about 90% of Kiwi chicks do not make it six months old
  • Fewer than 5% of all Kiwi make it adulthood
A Kiwi killed by a predator.  Photo courtesy of kiwisforkiwi.org

A Kiwi killed by a predator. Photo courtesy of kiwisforkiwi.org

KIWIS ON THE RISE  New Zealand is a country that is extremely proud of the beautiful land on which they live.  It is one of the only places in the world where coastal, forest, and alpine environments exist within such close proximity to each other.  This unique environment and the fact that no land mammals are native to the island nation make for a plethora of native bird species.  When Captain Cook first visited New Zealand in the 1700s, he wrote about the “deafening” bird songs that were constant in the forests.  It is no secret that human inhabitation of the country has done no favors for the bird populations.  However, the tides have turned.  Humans are no longer viewed as the biggest threat to native bird species like the Kiwi, but are considered their greatest protector.  There are numerous sanctuaries and conservation reserves on both the North and South Islands.  These serve as havens for bird species where they are protected, nurtured, and bred to help increase depleting populations.  The sanctuaries are not only beneficial from a conservation standpoint, but they also attract a great number of visitors each year.  The money raised from admittance fees help to keep the sanctuaries up and running and also fund research and development needed to keep the populations of these birds on the rise.  Visitors to these areas enjoy the unique opportunity to see these sometimes elusive species in their native habitat.  Some sanctuaries or attractions are dedicated largely to Kiwi, such as the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown, the National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika, the Otorohanga Kiwi House, and the Kiwi Encounter in Rainbow Springs.

A map of kiwi distribution in New Zealand.  Photo courtesy of New Zealand Department of Conservation.

A map of kiwi distribution in New Zealand. Photo courtesy of New Zealand Department of Conservation.

MEDIA Because of the Kiwi’s status as the unofficial emblem of New Zealand and the local’s feeling of responsibility to preserve native species, media coverage on saving the Kiwi is surprisingly heavy.  Kiwis are covered almost everywhere, from local newspapers, to TV, to advocacy campaigns.  Much of the media surrounding the Kiwi encourages people to protect the species by pulling at their sympathetic heart strings.  Photos of baby kiwis killed by stoats are featured at bus stops, a grown Kiwi and her chicks are seen trying to cross a busy street during a commercial about “watching for Kiwi” on the South Island’s secluding roads, and a photo of a sad looking young boy has the caption, “Don’t let our children grow up without Kiwi.”  Mainstream media, such as newspapers, do a better job of painting a whole story of the state of the kiwi.  They often include numbers and statistics that are more scientific, but no less saddening than the pictures of the cute birds.  Later in this blog, I will focus on comparing the coverage of the Kiwi by advocacy campaigns and by mainstream New Zealand press coverage.

Photo courtesy of bestadsontv.com

Photo courtesy of bestadsontv.com