Feeling grumpy about hitting the gym this week? This little kiwi is all the motivation you’ll need.

Meet Ruata. He’s a North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli), the only wild kiwi species on New Zealand's North Island. Last June, Ruata was found with a dislocated leg after becoming caught in a trap. His leg was reset by a vet, but it would be some eight weeks before the endangered bird would be healthy enough to return to the wild. 

For a bit of avian R&R, Ruata was sent to the Wildbase Center at Massey University (WCMU), the only dedicated wildlife hospital in New Zealand. There, the team built a special, tiny treadmill to help Ruata rebuild strength in the injured leg. It's a technique they've used before, back in 2010, with the aptly named "Piwi the kiwi":

North Island brown kiwis are the most common species of kiwi, but even so, their numbers are dwindling. The IUCN Red List estimates that there are fewer than 25,000 individuals left in the world. The greatest threat kiwis face isn’t traps (or body image issues from fitness-focused heroes like Ruata) – it’s mammals, particularly domestic pets.

Kiwis called New Zealand home for about 70 million years before humans arrived, and until that time the only mammals on the island were bats and seals, which were not a threat to the forest-dwelling birds. The sudden introduction of predators like dogs, cats and ferrets along with humans, so late in the evolution of the kiwis, meant that the ground-dwelling birds lacked  the necessary defences to avoid becoming lunch.


It’s estimated that 94 percent of North Island brown kiwi chicks die before reaching mating age – with dogs, cats and wild stoats (Mustela erminea) accounting for about half of those cases. 

It's possible that the trap Ruata fell into was actually one designed to help protect his species. Along with nest protection and captive breeding projects, controlling predators with leg-hold traps is one of the main techniques being used to safeguard kiwis. Although a lot of effort goes into ensuring that the traps are as kiwi-proof as possible, conservation isn’t always perfect, especially in the fight against invasive species. That’s why wildlife rescue and rehabilitation institutions like WCMU are so important: they treat kiwis year-round, with an 80% survival rate! 

The centre is also working to better understand the long-beaked birds' behaviour in the wild. Check out some of their camera trap clips:

For a look at other kiwi rescue success stories, visit Massey University’s Wildlife Case Studies!


Top header image: Eric Carlson/Flickr