Dunedin Botanic Garden to double as wildlife hospital

Dunedin's Botanic Gardens is preparing to welcome some new visitors from the city's wildlife hospital.

An empty aviary is being redeveloped into a rehab facility, which will give injured native birds the chance to recuperate outdoors.

A yellow-eyed penguin was the latest patient on the surgery table at Dunedin's Wildlife Hospital - which was opened as a permanent facility in January.

It has already treated more than 160 birds, mainly native, with a success rate of more than 90 percent.

"When you're dealing with creatures, some of which may have 300/400/500 left on the planet, those numbers are extremely significant," Steve Walker, the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital's co-chair, told Newshub.

Previously, injured birds from Otago and Southland were packed into crates and flown to the North Island. Many didn't survive because of the time delays and trauma.

Dunedin's vet surgeon and nurse have had no shortage of feathered patients, with the hospital about to double its medical team to cope with the demand.

"Like a human hospital, it's imperative the hospital gets its patients out," Mr Walker said. 

Work is now underway at the city's Botanic Gardens to convert an empty aviary into a rehabilitation space for the hospital, with four caged areas being built for free by local companies.

A few Highlanders players also lent some physical support to the project, led by apprentice builder Jackson Hemopo.

The aviary will be completed in about a month, allowing native woodland birds like kererū and tui to complete their rehabilitation outdoors.

Once healthy, the goal is to release the birds into native forest around the Gardens, helping boost its wild bird populations.