When it comes to the conservation of the world’s species, we can all agree that there are endless problems caused by us humans that have had potentially devastating impacts on wildlife populations. Whether the impacts are direct, through activities such as overfishing, hunting and poaching, or indirect, through examples such as habitat destruction and invasive species, humans can have monumental effects on species. We accept that and take responsibility for it, or at least some of us do, but let’s not get into that now! However, we do also conserve. Or at least we try to. From minuscule invertebrates to the largest mammal on earth, the blue whale, some of us like to get stuck in with conservation. However, in some particular cases, we have to admit that some species do not exactly help themselves when it comes to the fight for survival. They may be picky when it comes to mating, they may only reproduce every few years or they may only eat a certain fruit of a certain tree, which blooms at a certain time of year for a specific period. Now, I am not suggesting that they therefore are on their own and we are not interested in conserving them, I am merely stating a fact. In addition, I am setting the scene for an elusive and fascinatingly weird species that is very picky in it’s lifestyle. A species of bird endemic to New Zealand. Is it a parrot? Is it an owl? May I introduce, or remind you of, the kakapo.
The kakapo. The owl parrot. A large, nocturnal, flightless, ground-dwelling species, the kakapo was once the third most common species of bird in New Zealand. However, come us humans and their populations suffered hugely. Hunting, habitat clearing for farming and the bird’s defence mechanism of freezing when spotted, all contributed to their decline in the country. In addition, when it comes to breeding, kakapo don’t like to live life in the fast lane, far from it in fact. Male kakapos cannot breed until 4 years of age and females not until they are 6, and even then, they usually breed every 2 to 4 years. Why? Well, it can depend on the availability of fruit from tree species that include the rimu and beech. So, it seems the kakapo is a bit of a risk taker when it comes to their survival. Indeed, non of these facts have helped this very long lived bird (average 58 years!) with it’s survival effort and they are now the centre of conservation efforts which have been ongoing in New Zealand since the 1950s.
So, how are they doing now? Well, 2016 has proved something of a record breaking year for the kakapo’s breeding season with 46 chicks hatching. This has all been part of the Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Programme and the 2016 breeding season has been the most successful in its 25 year history. However, although this is of course excellent news, the next few weeks will be crucial to the kakapo chicks as they are very vulnerable and many do often not survive to adulthood. The chicks that have hatched will be checked regularly over the next few weeks and, according to the recovery programme, any who are not faring so well will be brought in to be hand reared. Although this is not ideal, the fragile kakapo population and factors such as poor nest sites can mean that hand rearing is the only option. Due to this vulnerability, the chicks will not be included in the total kakapo population of New Zealand until they are at least 6 months old.
Since its beginnings in the 1970s, Kakapo Recovery has been very successful in it’s conservation of the species. In the 1970s, only 18 kakapo were known to exist in New Zealand. Today, there are 125 individuals spread across the three Islands. This year has proved to be something of a kakapo kapow in terms of breeding success and let’s hope it continues!
So, how can we help the world’s kakapos? Fly over to New Zealand and stealthily follow a kakapo through the night hours, fiercely defending it from any foe? Well, as action packed and entertaining as that sounds, we could be a little less dramatic in our approach. The kakapo conservation recovery programme has many options, including donation, buying merchandise, becoming a member of the programme, volunteering or even adopt a kakapo! Admittedly, there is expense involved and for some, such options are not feasible, but just being a bit more aware of these weird and wonderful birds may do more for their conservation than you think.
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