Native NZ parrot emerges from 21 years in hiding
11 Feb 2009
A male kakapo, one of a handful of New Zealand’s remaining native parrots, has been found on an island off the south of the South Island after 21 years on the missing list.
Known to rangers as Rangi, the flightless nocturnal bird was one of four male kakapo released onto Whenua Hou / Codfish Island, a 1400ha conservation sanctuary near Stewart Island, in 1987.
Rangi didn’t have a transmitter and had not been seen since. At least, that was until Waitangi Day - New Zealand’s national holiday (Feb 6) - when a ranger working on the island sanctuary heard a male calling in an area where no kakapo had been detected before.
Ranger Chris Birmingham said he was surprised to hear the bird "booming" its unique resonant mating call near South Bay.
He followed the sound and eventually spotted Rangi. "He bolted so I followed him through the supplejack and ferns. Finally, when it was safe, I managed to grab him."
It was only when the ranger saw a numbered metal band on Rangi’s leg that he realised the bird's significance.
Rangi's vitals were checked, showing he was in top form, and sperm was collected from him before he was carefully carried back to home territory and released.
The missing bird’s unexpected discovery boosts the critically endangered endemic parrot population to 91 and potentially adds important genetic diversity.
Last shot at fatherhood
The few living New Zealand kakapo are mostly descendants of Stewart Island birds, but the one known survivor from Fiordland has been given what could be his last shot at keeping his lineage alive.
For the first time ever, sperm has been collected from the 70-year-old bird, known as Richard Henry. Although it was poor-quality, the sperm was used to artificially inseminate a female kakapo in the hope of producing more offspring with Richard Henry’s valuable diverse genes.
"Anything's worth a try with him but it may be too late," said kakapo technical officer Daryl Eason.
A Spanish vet who is assisting with the kakapo programme on Codfish Island made international history 12 days ago when he became the first person to artificially inseminate a wild endemic endangered bird.
Dr Juan Blanco, a world-renowned expert in assisted reproductive techniques in endangered birds, said the female kakapo involved had since laid two eggs.
The advanced technology used in that case had also been adopted in the artificial insemination using Richard Henry's sperm. Dr Blanco says the goal is to boost fertility rates of eggs and to improve genetic diversity, which would help stave off kakapo extinction.
Rangi’s discovery further improves what was predicted to be the biggest kakapo breeding season since monitoring began more than 30 years ago. It is linked to this season's heavy fruiting of rimu trees and the growing population of female kakapo.
The prediction of 40 chicks for 2009 is on track, and to date 17 female kakapo have mated, seven have nested and 14 eggs have been laid, but more nests, eggs and matings are expected daily for weeks to come.
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