A Florida zoo has apologized for its handling of a kiwi, after a video of patrons petting the nocturnal bird under bright lights sparked outrage in New Zealand.
Zoo Miami offered its “most sincere apology” for the treatment of the bird, named “Paora.”
“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 zoo said in a Tuesday statement.
The zoo added that that kind of interaction will no longer be offerred.
Paora was born through Zoo Miami’s breeding program in 2019, which aimed at ensuring the survival of the species.
The kiwi is a national icon in New Zealand, symbolizing the country’s natural heritage and providing the nickname for its citizens.
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Paora appeared visibly upset in the footage, which went viral on social media Tuesday, as guests could be seen patting the bird as it tried to retreat into the dark.
The outcry was near-immediate in New Zealand, as an online petition was formed. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins later issued comments thanking the zoo for taking swift action.
“They’ve acknowledged what they were doing wasn’t appropriate, or wasn’t right, or wasn’t fair, to the kiwi,” he said a press conference.
“We give you our word that the public will never handle Paora again,” said the zoo’s communications director Ron Magill.
Kiwis are an endangered species, with only around 70,000 left in the world, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.
Conservation efforts have focused on saving the bird’s natural habitats from predators, and it’s extremely rare for them to be kept in captivity.
New Zealand officials said they would discuss the zoo incident with the U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums to “address some of the housing and handling concerns raised.”