Ralph Draws the Kiwikiu: Status-Critically Endangered

15 November 2019 -

An Act of Gonzovation – by Ceri Levy

Video 02-11-2019, 16 00 48

In 2017, Ralph and I invented the word Gonzovation in our last book, Critical Critters, which highlighted the plight of the world’s endangered animals. This followed on from our first two books on birds, Extinct Boids and Nextinction about those birds that have become extinct and those that are next in line to leave this mortal coil. But what is Gonzovation you may ask? Well, if it were in the dictionary it would read thus:


alternative conservation through the act of gonzovating and exhibiting compassion for the natural world.
the protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and of natural resources to include forests, earth and water.


an alternative conservationist.
a person who makes sense from the nonsense.

As gonzovationists, Ralph and I believe that the world, people, nature and wildlife are in need of what we call Acts of Gonzovation to help all of us survive the relentless barrage of attacks on our very existence, many created by humanity itself. An Act of Gonzovation seeks to deal with situations found in a world out of kilter, with compassion and care for our fellow inhabitants. This could take the form of planting wild flower seeds to attract more pollinators, creating greener spaces, protesting against climate change or supporting conservation. We can all do something small in our lives that can elicit big change in the world if we all pull together and it can be done without compromising our lifestyles.

Serendipity is frequently the architect of our gonzovationist work and we have to be ready to spring into action when situations appear out of the blue and today is no different. Last week, Nathan Eagle, an environmental journalist and photographer from Honolulu Civil Beat, approached Sadie, Ralph’s daughter and organiser of the Steadman Time Space Continuum. He wants to publicise the fact that the Kiwikiu, a Hawaiian bird, is critically endangered and a new initiative is trying to save it from the edge of extinction and needs as high a profile as possible to make more people aware of its plight.

Sadie arranges a call between the three of us so we can ascertain how we can help. Nathan tells us he has lugged our first book, Extinct Boids, with him wherever he goes, which is no mean feat, as we made our bird books to be the size of giant C19th scientific bird tomes. He mentions just how heavy the book is, almost rebuking us, which nearly makes me feel guilty about creating such a monster. But after a pause for reflection I don’t feel that bad but do admire the man’s tenacity and strong arms. I digress. Nathan tells us of the work being carried out on behalf of the Kiwikiu. This resilient little bird exists only in Maui and only in numbers at maximum 344. The hope is that an “insurance population of 15-20 birds can be rehomed on the opposite side of the island where a new habitat has been nurtured for them. It is a risky endeavour for the birds but could lead to their increased numbers and thus survival on our planet.

Nathan wonders if there’s any way that we could come out of bird retirement and get to work on this critter and he thinks that Ralph drawing the Kiwikiu could help highlight the issue. As I say to Nathan, “ Time will tell, but I would bet everything I have in my piggy bank that Ralph will have that bird drawn very soon.” Sadie and I leave Nathan feeling hopeful.Kiwikiu photograph by Nathan Eagle

This is an opportunity for us to get back in the bird game. Sadly, since we finished our bird books in 2015, the lives of many birds has not got better and life for most wildlife is continually being threatened. When we first started writing about birds none of us readily knew that we were already in the throes of the Anthropocene Age, the age of mankind, which hasn’t been very kind to many of the species we share this planet with. This is our chance to commit an Act of Gonzovation. Sadie and I sit down for a chat with Ralph.

Ceri: Hey Ralph, there’s a bird we need to cover that we didn’t talk about previously. It’s the Maui Parrotbill or to give it its Hawaiian name, which it was only given in 2010, the Kiwikiu.

Ralph: If it’s a Kiwi, has it travelled from New Zealand?

Ceri: No! It’s a Kiwikiu… It’s from Hawaii. It’s a honeycreeper and we have previously depicted several Hawaiian birds including honeycreepers. If you remember we got in a tangle as to whether certain birds were alive or extinct. We got very confused.

KiwiKiu by Ralph Steadman for Civil Beat

Ralph: Yes, we went all confused.com. Hawaii? Last time I was there I covered the Honolulu Marathon with Hunter for what would become The Curse of Lono. It was chaos. True Gonzo. I remember Hunter and myself running the first three miles of the race and then a truck picked us up and took us the rest of the way to the bottom of Heartbreak Hill and there we got off and got ourselves into a position where the runners came past us after running twenty miles and while holding drinks in our hands we shouted at them, “Run, you bastards, run!” Breathless runners were hurling abuse back at us and accused us of being non-sporting! Perhaps I should feel a little guilty, so if there’s something we can do to help them over there….

Sadie: So this is your chance to make amends to the good folk of Hawaii. Draw the Kiwikiu! Cue the Kiwikiu…

Ralph: Righto, I’ll get right on to it. Now where’s me yellah ink?

Time passes… And then…

Read Nathan’s article HERE!