Officials at a South Florida zoo have apologized and promised to end its "Kiwi Encounter" experience after a viral video showed humans petting one of the threatened birds, which are a national symbol for New Zealand.
Zoo Miami spokesperson Ron Magill said in a statement Tuesday that they're sorry for the stress caused by a video on social media of people handling Paora, the kiwi bird under the zoo's care.
"Though Paora has thrived at Zoo Miami while receiving the best care available, the development of the Kiwi Encounter was, in hindsight, not well conceived with regard to the national symbolism of this iconic animal and what it represents to the people of New Zealand, especially the Maori," the statement said.
An online petition was started after a video posted on Twitter Monday showed the flightless, nocturnal bird being handled by visitors and kept awake by artificial lighting. The online outcry got the attention of New Zealand's Department of Conservation, which promised to reach out to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to express concerns about Paora's housing.
Paora is normally kept out of public view in a quiet area with a shelter that allows him to remain in relative darkness, Zoo Miami officials said. The zoo is planning to build a special habitat that will allow guests to learn about kiwi birds without any direct contact.
Wildlife photographer Holly Neill, who posted a video showing clips of the encounters, said it was "appalling" to see a kiwi bird treated this way.
"It’s being kept awake during the day despite being a nocturnal species," she wrote. "When it runs to hide in a dark box, they open the lid."