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New Zealand conservationists celebrate rare parrot breeding success (hope for us all)

The kākāpō has had its most successful breeding season since conservation efforts rescued it from the brink of extinction in the 1970s

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A kakapo calling. Once found all over New Zealand, the world’s heaviest parrot was hunted by Maori and then European arrivals. Photograph: Alamy

The world’s heaviest parrot, a critically endangered bird that only lives in a remote part of New Zealand, has had its most successful breeding season since conservation efforts began more than two decades ago.

Thirty-seven kākāpō chicks are currently surviving, providing a much-needed boost to the population of 123 adult kākāpō which live on predator-free islands.

The charismatic parrots, which were once thought to be extinct until a population of males and female was found in the 1970s on Stewart Island, reached their lowest number in 1977 at just 18 known birds.

Once found all over New Zealand, they were hunted first by Maori and then by European arrivals. The birds, cloaked in a rainbow of green hues, were so common that an early explorer described being able to shake a tree until they tumbled to the ground, like apples.

But after the introduction of predators such as stoats, ferrets and weasels, their numbers declined noticeably, and by 1840 they had disappeared from the North Island. The loss from the South Island occurred soon after.

The 2016 breeding success signals a new era for kākāpō conservation, said Department of Conservation kākāpō operations manager, Deidre Vercoe.

“The chick numbers achieved this year are a real step towards a future that doesn’t involve the hands-on management of every single bird,” she said.

“Due to some huge improvements in technology in the kākāpō recovery programme, we now have remote nest monitoring and smart transmitters that provide high quality data on what the birds are doing.”

The technology tells rangers when birds have mated and who with, as well as when females are nesting, and when mothers are getting on and off eggs and for how long. This data is then all sent via satellite to the email inboxes of relevant staff at kakapo operations bases.

This is good news for the programme, as a more hands-off approach is essential for managing a growing population.

“This is a turning point for us. These kinds of technological advances are enabling us to look after more kakapo in a non-invasive way, and as the population grows, these tools will be crucial,” Vercoe said.

Conservation efforts also include an international effort to sequence the genomes of every known living kakapo, artificial insemination techniques, and supplementary feeding trials to optimise productivity.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2016 by and tagged , .

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