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Rui the kererū celebrates her 21st – living four times longer than her wild mates

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Rui is 21 years old and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Caroline Williams/Stuff

Rui is 21 years old and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Auckland Zoo resident kererū Rui is celebrating her 21st birthday. In a rare interview, the old bird who has lived many, many years longer than wild kererū, shares her secrets to longevity.

Q: Happy birthday Rui! Twenty-one is a milestone age among us humans. What have you done to celebrate?

A: Thank you! My kaitiaki (carers) at Auckland Zoo made a fabulous cake with bananas, grapes, peas and fresh herbs, topped with the letters of my name carved out of a carrot. I’ve heard human 21st celebrations can get pretty sloppy. I won’t be doing a funnel or 21 shots, however I may gorge myself on my fruit cake and wake up on the floor, having drunkenly fallen out of a tree.

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Staff at Auckland Zoo made Rui a kererū-friendly cake for her birthday.

Auckland Zoo/Supplied

Staff at Auckland Zoo made Rui a kererū-friendly cake for her birthday.

Q: Most wild kererū live for between one and five years, but you’re one of the oldest kererū in New Zealand. What’s kept you going for 21 years?

A: Fortunately for me, there are no pests like rats, stoats, cats and possums in Te Wao Nui a Tāne (The Forest at the zoo). I also don’t have to worry about my trees getting chopped down, flying into windows and getting hit by cars.

Unfortunately, my friends and family outside the forest die young because of these predators and man made killers. I’ve heard from the Department of Conservation that many kererū eggs don’t hatch because they’re swiped from the nest by hungry predators before they get the chance.

Rui and bird keeper Casey Will.

Auckland Zoo/Supplied

Rui and bird keeper Casey Will.

Additionally, I have a lovely habitat and get lots of love from my keepers and the public, who say I’m full of personality. In 2020, I heard about a 29-year-old kererū named Pidge, who lived in Rotorua. I’m in really good health, so hopefully I’ve got a few more years in the tank.

Q: How did you end up at Auckland Zoo?

A: When I was just a young fledgling, I ended up with North Shore rescuer The Bird Lady and later the zoo in 2001. My feathers were in bad condition and it took more than six months of rehabilitation before I could fly. It was quite nice being given food without having to hunt for it myself, so I decided the wild life wasn’t for me. These days, you’ll see my green and purple feathers glisten against the sun as I fly through the tree tops – just listen out for the heavy flap of my wings.

Stuff reporter Melanie Earley at a 'meet and greet' with Rui at her favorite wooden perch.

Caroline Williams/Stuff

Stuff reporter Melanie Earley at a ‘meet and greet’ with Rui at her favorite wooden perch.

Apparently I’m a fan favorite at the zoo and in 2018 I made international news headlines for winning the prestigious Bird of the Year award, which earned me a message of congratulations from the prime minister. So, I like to do meet and greets at my favorite wooden rail. I love to help teachers explain to their students how important and vital I am to New Zealand’s ecosystem. *Puffs chest*

I’m not phased by humans who come to visit, especially if they have treats. Once a little girl was eating some raisins in her pram, so I hopped on the pram had some too. They were for me, right?

Q: I don’t mean to be rude, but kererū have a reputation for being rotund. In the interest of balance, I’d like to give you the chance to set the record straight, for kererū across the nation.

A: We’re large, in charge and proud of it. We’re chonky because it is our God-given duty to eat fruit and lots of it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I swallow it – whole. We kererū are the only bird with the ability – and bravery – to swallow whole large berries from the karaka, tawa and taraira trees. It’s our job to poop out the seeds so that new trees can grow.

Tiakina ngā manu, ka ora te ngahere. Kia ora te ngahere, ka ora ngā manu. Look after the birds and the forest flourishes. If the forest flourishes, the birds flourish.

Q: What can us humans do to give your cousins ​​outside of the zoo a better chance of living a long life?

A: Trapping pests and planting our favorite trees (karaka, miro and taraire) in your back garden will ensure we won’t get murdered or starve to death. My mates tell me that some people put stickers on their windows, so they know not to fly into them.

Auckland Zoo lead senior bird keeper Natalie Clark was interviewed for this story.

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