National Geographic : 1955 Sep
Belle Samples Earthworms in Her California Home Few New Zealanders have seen the kiwi in its native state. The timid creature usually hides by day in a burrow, a hole beneath the roots of a tree, or in a hollow. Maoris called it "the hidden bird" and believed it under the special protection of Tane, god of the forest. Belle, the San Diego Zoo's prized import, likes to tunnel in peat moss. The first time she dis appeared, zoo officials feared she had escaped or had been stolen. They searched for 90 minutes, probing inch by inch through the cage, before they discovered Belle 18 inches deep in the moss. The bird ranks as one of the park's star attrac tions. She requires much sleep during the day, and her health and diet get close attention. Belle's bill-of-fare includes dried biscuits, soaked raisins, fresh grapes, beetles, berries, and 600 earthworms - about eight ounces a day. , Belle is named in honor of Mrs. Belle Benchley, retired director of the San Diego Zoo. Close ties exist between the Auckland and San Diego Zoos; they have exchanged many gifts. SMilton Hyman 396 The use of kiwi-feather cloaks by the aborigines of New Zealand helped to push this amazing creature to the brink of extinction. The handsome cloaks, many of which are still in existence, were made by weaving soft, hairlike kiwi feathers into a base of dressed flax fibers. Europeans obtained examples only with great difficulty, but one was sent as a present to England's Queen Victoria. Slaughtered for Pies and Pipestems The aborigines were not wholly to blame for the near-extermination of the strange New Zealand bird. Early settlers, gold seekers, and bushmen harried them with dogs in the daytime and with blazing torches at night. Great numbers of the defenseless creatures were slaughtered for food during the 19th century. Kiwi pie became a favorite dish. Leg bones were ideal pipestems; and the soft skins provided warm caps and dainty feathered muffs for the women of colonial New Zealand. I learned about the long effort to breed kiwis in captivity on a recent visit to the Hawke's Bay Acclimatisation Society's game farm at Greenmeadows, near Napier. The story be gan more than 25 years ago; a workman, bending over a woodbin in a plant near Napier, was amazed to find the space occu pied by an adult male kiwi. Carefully han dled by its captor, the bird eventually found sanctuary at the game farm.