A zoo in the USA has managed to anger the entire nation of New Zealand by inviting visitors to pet its shy and nocturnal kiwi.
Zoo Miami was charging $25 for an encounter with Pāora, a brown kiwi hatched in its care four years ago.
For four days a week, guests were able to give the bird a scratch on the head and a stroke in a brightly lit room without anywhere for it to take shelter.
But the practice has now ended and the zoo has issued an apology, after a TikTok video of people taking part went viral and prompted a petition that gathered more than 12,000 signatures – and even a comment from New Zealand’s prime minister.
‘I immediately went to the zoo director, and I said, we have offended a nation,’ said zoo spokesman Ron Magill in a national radio interview.
In a lengthy apology, the park operators 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 ‘Pāora,’ the kiwi bird that is presently under our care.’
The statement went on to say the bird would be returned to darkness, and would no longer be exposed to any fluorescent lights.
The viral TikTok clip shows Pāora immediately running towards a wooden box after being placed down by zookeepers, in an apparently effort to hide from the glare of the lamps.
The TikTok video prompted fury and immediate condemnation (Picture: TikTok)
Pāora is one of the few kiwis to be kept in captivity around the world, as the animal’s needs are complex (Picture: Zoomiami.org)
Animal lovers in New Zealand and beyond were appalled by the mistreatment of the reclusive creature, which is regarded as a national icon.
The petition, launched by Jeseka Kate Christieson from the North Island city of Hamilton, gathered thousands of signatures within hours of the clip surfacing.
Ms Christieson, 23, told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Google is free, they have a brown kiwi care guidebook that not only New Zealanders have to follow, but the 60 offshore kiwi caregivers have to follow also.
‘Our taonga [treasures] are beyond precious to us and we have a lot of mana [life force], a lot of pride for our native fauna and to see it disrespected was just beyond a joke.’
It is exceptionally rare for kiwis to be kept in captivity, and Pāora’s naming ceremony in 2019 was attended by New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States as well as several Māori representatives.
There are an estimated 70,000 kiwis in New Zealand, according to the country’s Department of Culture (DoC), and the birds have a cultural, historic and spiritual significance to the Māori people.
Following Zoo Miami’s apology, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said: ‘They have acknowledged that what they were doing wasn’t appropriate or wasn’t right or wasn’t fair to the kiwi. I thank them for taking it seriously.’
He added that the DoC would be ‘discussing the situation with the American Association of Zoos & Aquariums’.
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Condemnation from the nation of kiwi-lovers was swift and spectacular.