Take it slow, I’m a kakapo

Kakapos can’t run or fly, the two main reasons why their numbers rapidly dwindled away when the first humans and predators arrived on their island.

This giant green peaceful parrot is so gentle that it wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose, or any other creature, as it couldn’t even run away or fight when it found itself encountering predators invading its only home in New Zealand.

 

It would happily say ‘boom’ to attract females though and takes its time going to great trouble building an enticing nest or bowl decorated with leaves and feathers.

The kakapo’s attempt at defending itself is to freeze, and hope that it blends into the background sufficiently. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with mammals with their keen sense of smell. The kakapo was thriving well, until Māori and European settlers arrived, bringing with them predators. They hunted the kakapo for their beautiful soft feathers and destroyed much of their habitat with land clearance. Conservation started in 1894, not very successfully as by the 1950s the kakapo was right on the edge of extinction. 

By the 1990s, there were around 50 kakapos left, so drastic action was finally taken. They were carefully transported to safety on Codfish Island, where a conservation and breeding programme was put in place.

Slowly but surely the numbers started to increase and, by 2012, there were 125 known kakapos in the wild.

The numbers now are just over 200 so they are still very much critically endangered. As well as Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, they can now be found on Anchor Island and Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island, all off the coast of New Zealand.

If male kakapos were better at woo-ing than booming, it might be a different story.

The kakapo is nocturnal and so after creating his love bowl where he camps down for the night, he starts his love song. His booms can travel up to three miles and after 20-30 booms, he changes to a high-pitched ‘ching’. This can go on for around eight hours a night during the mating season, which is 2-4 months. Another obstacle in boosting the kakapo population is that they do not even breed every year, it can be as infrequent as every 2-4 years.

Incredibly, there is something in the kakapo’s favour, they are the longest living bird species in the whole world, living to around 90 years-old!

If you want to learn more about this incredible and lovable bird, help to fundraise, donate or get to know Sirocco, the very famous kakapo who has become ‘New Zealand’s official spokesbird for conservation’, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, then please visit their website.

He even has a Facebook and Twitter account, at least it’s not a ‘Booming’ account. You could also check out Stephen Fry’s ‘Last Chance to See’ series available on YouTube, which features the plight of the kakapo.

 

Guest article written by Patricia Bow

 

Images:

  • New Zealand Department of Conservation

Sources:

- August 3, 2022