It was a bitterly cold day and the lemurs tried to climb onto my head but it was a great zoo. I was given a guided tour by the zoo’s chief executive who showed me various animals including some wonderful flamingoes and, among my favourites, the penguins. The little oblong birds cheerfully waddled around then dipped and dived into their massive pool, seemingly unbothered by the freezing temperature of the water.
And last weekend I went to West Midlands Safari Park at Bewdley. The park, like the zoo, was brilliant. My travelling companion and I were able to drive around and be harassed by various breeds of animals, including camels, giraffes and various types of antelope. We also got close to lions, tigers and would have got close to see the cheetahs – if they’d been a bit keener to see us.
There was just one thing missing at what were two great animal sanctuaries in the heart of The Midlands: A kiwi.
I don’t mean me or the tangy green fruit that also shares the name. I mean my home country’s little feathered mascot.
The kiwi has struggled in recent decades against predators such as dogs, stoats and ferrets. Of five kiwi species, one is critically endangered, one endangered and two classified as vulnerable, but I felt sure there must be a zoo or animal conservation place somewhere in The Midlands looking after one.
So, in an effort to track down any kiwis of the feathered flightless variety in this region, I googled “kiwi” plus “Midlands” searching for any record of them having set foot in these fine lands. What I found was disappointing. Dozens of businesses: Kiwi IT, Kiwi Maintenance, Kiwi Design and Print and Kiwi Windows in the Midlands. Further south there is even a giant kiwi carved by homesick kiwi troops after World War One on a hill overlooking an army camp at Bulford but no evidence of the real thing.
So I asked a contact at Dudley Zoo if it had ever had a kiwi or if they knew of where I might see one in The Midlands. This was the response I received:
“I’ve had a word with one of our curators and apparently we have had them in the past but they are very difficult to acquire.
“I believe the NZ government restricts overseas breeding programmes and just a handful of zoos across the world hold them within their collections. Frankfurt, Netherlands and San Diego are I believe among about a dozen centres.”
So it appears we kiwis are very difficult to acquire.
I think The Midlands should have a kiwi and I’d like to try and think of a way to make it happen. With such a fine collection of other animals in the region’s animal sanctuaries, a kiwi would be a great addition and The Midlands could be the only part of the UK to have one. Still, I can’t think of anywhere better than The Midlands to look after these rare little birds. I’ve certainly felt at home here.