What Is Happening to the Kakapo ?

02 June 2002
Posted by Chris Smith.

A species of giant parrot from New Zealand, sadly threatened with extinction, is making a comeback thanks to conservation efforts. The number of kakapos, one of the world's rarest birds, have increased from as few as 50 in 1995, to nearly 90 today, thanks to the work of Don Merton and his colleagues from the New Zealand National Kakapo Team. Before people arrived in New Zealand about 1000 years ago, kakapos had only one predator, another bird, and their beautiful mottled green plummage provided ideal camouflage. But the Maoris hunted the birds for food and they also cleared the birds' habitats and eventually other predators such as cats, rats possums and ferrets arrived on the scene. By the late 1960's the birds were on the brink of extinction and by 1995 there were estimated to be as few as 50 left. So what is the conservation team doing to save the kakapo ? Firstly they have moved them to 2 nearby islands (Maud Island and Codfish Island) where there are fewer predators. The birds are also given more food to encourage them to breed, but steps are taken to prevent overfeeding because fatter females produce more female offspring. The team have also found that over 40% of the eggs laid are infertile, a problem them have surmounted by removing the infertile eggs and replacing them with fertile ones taken from other kakapos. The removal of their eggs encourages the fertile birds to lay again. Thanks to their efforts there are now 86 kakapos and scientists plan to continue with the breeding programme until the number reaches 200, at which point they can safely leave the birds to it.

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