The largest private protection project in the country has allowed kiwi to be shown to wealthy tourists without a permit, despite welfare problems with the birds.
Complaints at the Department of Conservation (DOC) accuse the Cape Sanctuary in Hawke's Bay of doing tourist dollars for kiwi's health.
It comes as a report on the death of some small spotted kiwi two summers ago reveals that they died by neglect.
A video of Sir Paul McCartney hugging a winding kiwi while visiting Cape Sanctuary in December 2017 has been viewed more than 466,000 times.
But DOC admits that the ex-Beatle should not have held the bird because only registered kiwi handlers can do that.
In addition, the sanctuary at that time had no license to do what he & kko & # 39; kiwi advocacy tours & # 39; mentioned, which means that it was in violation of the Wildlife Act.
The sanctuary thought it had a license and DOC thought it did the same, said DOC Hawke's Bay operations manager Connie Norgate.
"It has not been the fault of anyone in particular and certainly not from Cape Sanctuary, more DOC."
She was not opposed to kiwi being used for advocacy, especially in the case of Sir Paul McCartney.
"Internationally, that has probably provided good coverage for the plight of kiwi, which is really cool.
"If we put it in context, kiwis will die every day on public fields where there is no management or pest control."
Only after she investigated complaints against the reserve in February 2017 did she realize that it had no permit.
These complaints, obtained by RNZ under the official information law, include concerns about high staff turnover, the death of two kaka in cat traps in October 2017 and the death of nine Little Spotted kiwifruit in 2017.
There were also concerns that the provision of kiwi rides to paying guests "took precedence over other kiwi management with higher priority".
The choice of the birds used for tours was "guided by ease rather than absolute requirement for health check" and the tours were done at the expense of pest control in the small spotted kiwis old point.
DOC eventually gave Cape Sanctuary a permit for 10 years on 27 August, a few weeks after RNZ started requesting information.
The Cape Sanctuary is located on Cape Kidnappers, on three properties owned by the American billionaire Julian Robertson and the Hawke & # 39; s Bay Lowe and Hansen families.
It is not open to the public, but guests of Robertson's $ 2000-a-night farm at the Cape Kidnappers Hotel can pay a further $ 600 to guide sanctuary personnel in conducting health checks on kiwi fruit. ; s.
RNZ understood that these tours were often held when guests demanded them, even if this meant that kiwis were treated more than they should.
Former Maungatautari Restoration Project kiwi manager Matthew Lark said that the practice of kiwi walking was a controversial issue in the conservation community, but the mistake lay square with DOC.
"There is a generic culture at many sanctuaries on the Norwegian island, so people can do this." The rules on this subject are very lax, many of them are not allowed and many are not checked or inspected by the department. "
Concerns that kiwi hikes at the Cape came at the expense of other species, were submitted to DOC in October last year. That was after nine small spotted kiwi died between somewhere between November 2006 and May 2017.
RNZ has been told that at least 15 birds have died – or nearly half the population – but they were not officially registered because not all birds had a radio station.
A report on the deaths, written by consultant Steve Sawyer and obtained by RNZ, admitted that radio monitoring of the birds was irregular between the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.
"At the same time, the level of predator control at this location was not of the highest standard expected within a site with a series of critically endangered species and therefore it did not offer small spotted kiwi."
The owners of Cape Sanctuary were not available to comment on the small spotted kiwidodes, or the unauthorized tours, and referred questions to Mr. Sawyer.