Innovative locally-designed ‘zoo labs’ helping save Mahoenui Giant Wētā

Published: 15 May, 2024

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A $2 million grant from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund administered by Kānoa – Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit (Kānoa – RD) has enabled Waikato’s Ōtorohanga Kiwi House to complete and open innovative, locally-designed ‘zoo labs’ this month.

Person with giant wētā on top of their hand in a zoo lab

New 'zoo labs' will enable visitors to learn about the Mahoenui Giant Wētā

The new labs and restored areas of the Kiwi House, the first of seven planned new ‘zoo zones’, will help secure the future of New Zealand’s unique and threatened Mahoenui Giant Wētā. This supports a long-term plan for the Ōtorohanga attraction to become a world-leading and accredited ‘living building zoo’.

Its Zone 1 buildings enable staff to showcase their intensive breeding programmes for the Giant Wētā, one of the largest insects in the world, through protected public viewing areas. The Kiwi House wants to attract more visitors by engaging people through the new labs and wildlife rehabilitation and training centres, when they open to the public in November.

The climate-controlled, purpose-built ‘zoo labs’ were custom-designed in Ōtorohanga in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Mokau ki Runga hapū. They aim to protect the giant wētā population and provide the best conditions for captive breeding including climate change engineering.

Temperature sensors feed live data back to computers at the facility, allowing the zoo lab staff to provide the wētā with an optimum living environment.

The Ōtorohanga Kiwi House, located in the King Country, is run by a charitable trust and has decades of success in breeding Brown Kiwi and other endangered wildlife for release back to the wild.

Regional development funding for the Waikato region has supported the completion of 198 projects since 2018 through $240.7 million of Kānoa – RD administered investments.

Giant Wētā held in a person's hand

The Giant Wētā is one of the largest insects in the world Photo credit: Ōtorohanga Kiwi House