Vets performed an emergency ‘Caesarean’ to help hatch a tiny kiwi chick – because it was positioned the wrong way around inside its shell.
The precious kiwi bird struggled to poke out its beak through the egg’s membrane and wriggle free, because it was stuck upside down with its leg over its head.
A team of vets was alerted when the chick was moving less than usual inside its egg, and took x-rays to check its positioning at Auckland Zoo, home to 1,400 animals in New Zealand.
Bird keeper Debra Searchfield then used surgical tweezers to peel back delicate fragments of the shell to reveal the fragile baby bird tangled in side.
She said: “This intervention was necessary as the chick was positioned the wrong way around.
“When this happens, kiwi are unable to use their powerful legs to break through the surface of the shell – requiring some Auckland Zoo help to hatch.”
The little ball of fluff was due to ‘internally pip’ – a process where chicks poke its beak through the membrane into the air-cell inside its egg – and start to take its first breaths.
But on this occasion, the chick needed assistance and the bird team worked with vets to make a hole in the shell and an incision into the membrane so its beak could poke through.
Vets then taped the spare shell back over the hole to recreate the egg’s seal before the chick began kicking its legs as Debra helped it to hatch.
The unnamed chick is the fourth to hatch this season under the zoo’s Operation Nest Egg (ONE) programme and there are more on the way.
Feathers from each of the four chicks have been sent off for DNA testing to find out their sex before they are given Te Reo Māori names, from New Zealand’s indigenous population.
The chicks are kept in a special temperature-controlled brooder room that is away from public view, before they are released onto a predator-free island where they will eat seeds, grubs, worms and small invertebrates.
The flightless bird, native to New Zealand, is the country’s national symbol and what gave islanders their ‘kiwi’ nickname.
Bird keeper Natalie Clark said: “It’s a real privilege to be involved in direct conservation of our national icon.
“This is the 360th kiwi Auckland Zoo has hatched for the O.N.E programme.”
According to the Department of Conservation, the kiwi’s national status is ‘endemic’ and it has become the flagship species for conservation.
Its conservation status varies between its five species, from ‘recovering’ to ‘nationally critical.’
The kiwi population has declined by 99 per cent over the past 50 years and could go extinct in the next 50.
Kiwis are nocturnal, cannot fly, have under-developed wing and chest muscles, and no breastbone which makes them particularly vulnerable to being crushed.
The biggest threat to the bird is other animals, with chicks often killed by stoats and cats, while adults are most frequently killed by dogs and ferrets.
Until WWI, the kiwi represented the country and not the people but by the end of the war, New Zealanders were also being called kiwis, trumping other nicknames.