Remembered as a beloved friend and national treasure across New Zealand, the first white kiwi bird ever hatched in captivity has died after undergoing surgery, prompting an outpouring of online grief for the small, adorable creature.
Manukura, which means “of chiefly status” in the Māori language, was hatched at the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre in May 2011. The North Island brown kiwi was supposed to be born with brown feathers but due to a rare genetic trait, leucism, they were a striking snow-white instead.
She soon became the center’s most famous resident, inspiring stuffed toys, memorabilia and a picture book by children’s author Joy Cowley. An ambassador for conservation and tourism, Manukura’s existence highlighted the precarious plight of her species, said Department of Conservation Wairarapa operations manager Kathy Houkamau in a statement.
But after nine years, Manukura died on Sunday after undergoing several surgeries to remove an infertile egg, an official Facebook page dedicated to her announced in a post on Monday.
“The surgeries went well but were not enough to save the ailing kiwi whose health continued to deteriorate in the weeks following the operation,” the post said.
Many of those heartbroken over the news left comments to express their grief.
“Manukura was a very special kiwi; she will be dearly missed. I was lucky enough to see her several times, and brought a little soft toy Manukura in my suitcase with me when I moved to Scotland. Arohanui,” one user wrote, signing off with the Māori for “with deep affection.”
“RIP Manukura. Such a beautiful ambassador for New Zealand and for endangered wildlife everywhere. I’m so glad we had the chance to see you when we were in your beautiful country. Sleep well, little bird,” another said.
Manukura was the first of three white kiwi birds born at Pūkaha during the 2011 to 2012 breeding season, local media reported. Her name was given to her by local elders who saw the animal as a blessing and unifying symbol.
According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, there are about 68,000 kiwi left.
The North Island brown kiwi is New Zealand’s second most common species but because of rapid population decline, it has been classified “at risk.” In 2015, their population was estimated to be at 24,550.