Story: Kiore – Pacific rats

Kiore travelled across the Pacific to New Zealand in the canoes of Polynesian seafarers, the ancestors of Māori. These hardy rodents found plenty to plunder in their new home – and became a threat to many native plants and animals.

Story by Bradford Haami
Main image: Two kiore, Little Barrier Island

Story summary

All images & media in this story

What are kiore?

Kiore (Pacific rats) are small rats with brown fur, and a grey and white underside. They came to New Zealand with the Polynesian ancestors of Māori, who carried them in their canoes.

Habitat and diet

Kiore spend the day in burrows, and come out at night to feed. They eat the berries of native forest trees, especially hīnau, as well as eggs and chicks, frogs, insects and lizards.

Kiore in Māori life

In tradition, kiore were descended from Hinemataiti, who stole her siblings, kūmara (sweet potato) from underground storage pits.

Kiore feature in many names – Motukiore (rat island) is an island in the Hokianga Harbour, Kiore is the name of a star cluster, and kiri-kiore is a carving pattern.

They were eaten by Māori, who often preserved kiore in fat and served them at special feasts.

Removal and survival

Kiore are considered a pest by the Department of Conservation, as they harm native plants and animals. The rats are removed from islands where endangered species such as tuatara are living.

The Ngātiwai tribe consider themselves guardians of the kiore. They believe there are cultural and historical reasons that the rats should survive.

There are a few kiore populations left, scattered in remote areas or on islands.

How to cite this page:

Bradford Haami, 'Kiore – Pacific rats', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 May 2024)

Story by Bradford Haami, published 24 November 2008