An American zoo has issued a groveling apology after admitting it made a “huge mistake” that angered an entire country.
In recent days, footage of Miami Zoo’s paid encounters with Paora the kiwi went viral, showing the bird being handled and passed around for selfies in broad daylight and under bright lights despite being a shy, nocturnal animal.
The treatment of their national icon sparked fury among New Zealanders, with a petition to save the “mistreated” animal being launched in the wake of the video going viral attracting more than 10,000 signatures.
“He has been tamed and is subjected to bright fluorescent lighting four days a week, being handled by dozens of strangers, petted on his sensitive whiskers, laughed at, and shown off like a toy,” the petition reads.
“Kiwi are nocturnal animals, who should be kept in suitable dark enclosures, and minimally handled.
“The best practice manual for kiwi states that they shouldn’t be handled often or taken out of their burrow to be held by the public. He is kept awake during the day, with only a small box in a brightly lit enclosure to mimic his natural underground habitat.”
Now, the zoo’s communications director Ron Magill has confirmed the attraction has been cancelled, and apologised in an interview with the New Zealand Herald.
“We regret the unintentional stress caused by a video on social media depicting the handling of Paora, the kiwi bird currently housed within Zoo Miami,” Mr Magill said.
He also told RNZ he had informed the zoo’s director that “we have offended a nation”.
“When I saw the video myself I said we have made a huge mistake here,” he said.
“I am so sorry. I am so remorseful. Someone asked how would you feel if we did that to your bald eagle, and you’re 100 per cent right.
“I never want to come across as making excuses, I am here to apologise … to everyone. I feel profoundly terrible about this.”
However, Mr Magill said Paora was healthy and well despite the controversy.
“He eats like he’s on a spa day every day and he’s doing well. It doesn’t excuse what he was subjected to. But I promise it will never happen again,” he said.
After the video began circulating globally, the zoo was inundated with complaints, with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation confirming it would be “discussing the situation with the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums to address some of the housing and handling concerns raised”.
New Zealand prime minister Chris Hipkins also weighed in on the debacle, claiming it “shows a lot of Kiwis take pride in our national bird when they’re overseas”.
“The New Zealanders who witnessed what was happening there caught it pretty quickly,” he said, adding that the zoo had “made public statements of regret on what’s happened, and I acknowledge that and thank them for taking it seriously”.
The kiwi is considered to be a taonga species – native birds, plants and animals of special cultural significance and importance to native New Zealanders.