The slow success
With all the negative nature stories flying about the media, I thought it might make a nice change to talk about the start of a success story, the recovery of the Kakapo. These birds really are one of the oddest creatures I’ve ever come across.
They are large, they are flightless, they are nocturnal. Oh and they are parrots. Don’t really fit the bill (if you’ll pardon the pun) do they? These natives to New Zealand have had a troubled history. It is suggested by Maori folklore (the only lore we have there) that the Kakapo was thriving over most of the islands, which has been confirmed by archaeological digs, at the arrival of the Polynesians. Their arrival heralded the doom of the population. The Maori hunted them for their meat, feathers and heads, and unfortunately for these birds they had no way to come back from this sort of attack. Their slow movement, flightlessness, strong smell and habit of freezing when threatened made them easy prey for the people and dogs on the island. If that wasn’t bad enough, the rats brought over over the centuries have helped to decimate their numbers by eating the eggs and chicks in their nests.
As if this wasn’t enough, when the Europeans arrived they started to change the landscape to one that would suit them. By the 1840s the Kakapo had been whittled down, surviving in the central part of the North island and forested areas in the Southern. The Europeans commenced with deforestation, industrial farming, introduction of more predatory mammals and generally made life impossible for the poor birds.
The Kakapo is the worlds heaviest parrot, the worlds only flightless parrot, and one of the worlds only nocturnal parrots. Like a large proportion of the native species in New Zealand the Kakapo very much fills a specific niche in the ecosystem. Most animals do have very specific roles, but some, sadly, do not adapt when their environment or ecosystem changes. The Kakapo is one of these animals that has struggled to adapt. New Zealand had no mammalian predators before Polynesians and Europeans came to the islands, so the vast majority of the roles performed by mammals were performed by birds or other non-mammals. Consequentially, it was a very well-balanced, finely tuned and delicate ecosystem. Was. With the introduction of all these predators, and animals that competed for their food, such as deer, the Kakapo has been in crisis for decades. On top of this it is inquisitive, friendly and generally has a lovely nature. Which is probably why we ate so many of them. Not to be disrespectful to Maori culture in the slightest, but it was a bit of a dick move.
Over the past 100 years there have been repeated efforts to help save the Kakapo from extinction, which have all sadly failed. By 1995 there were only 50 known Kakapo surviving. At this crucial turning point the government upped efforts in a last ditch attempt to save the species, a 10 year plan. By 2000 they were on target, with 5 new females, 13 breeding attempts, and a world population of 62. As of 2013 they are, sadly, restricted to 3 islands; Codfish Island, Little Barrier Island, and Anchor Island, a far cry from their former range. But there is hope. Today there are 126 Kakapo! Not a huge number, but over double the population from 1995 in only 20 years! Of course these animals are still critically endangered and it only takes one mistake to wipe out an entire islands population, but it means there is hope. The stringent quarantine measures on the islands mean that they should be protected from almost all external threats, and as there are no rodents, or other predators on these islands hopefully we will see this baby boom continue.
I’ve got to say that I am in love with these animals. Apart from being real oddballs, they have distinct characters, making them real individuals. One day I hope to volunteer on one of the islands and try to help out with their plight, but that will unfortunately have to wait. Perhaps this is one species that we can bring back from the brink.
Anyway here’s a short video by the BBC, from the series ‘Natural World – Nature’s Misfits’:
Oh and the famous vid from ‘Last Chance To See’
For more information visit the Kakapo Recovery website.
Thanks for reading this, hopefully it will give you a little boost, all in all I think it shows that humanity can help, that it isn’t too late. I wish them all the best of luck, I hope you do too. As always feedback will be gratefully received! Many thanks.
The Maile Online
Oh go on then, one last photo.