NZ kākāpō bad boys face deportation
09 Dec 2010
Already world famous for their dubious sexual conduct - New Zealand’s rare kākāpō parrots are in the news again with a pack of "studs" facing deportation after becoming victims of their own success with the ladies.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has been obliged to intervene in parrot mating games on a remote island off the south of the South Island to ensure the boys share their love wisely in order to protect the future of their threatened species.
Kākāpō are large flightless parrots - the rarest in the world with only 122 birds still living - and were exposed as the bad boys of the native forest last year when one of their number, Sirocco, tried to mate with a high-profile BBC presenter during filming the series Last Chance to See.
The antics of the over-zealous Sirocco earned him world-wide acclaim, and he was later appointed to the high-profile position of the world’s first ‘spokesbird for conservation’.
But the exposure of Sirocco’s bad behaviour has rubbed off on his mates resulting in some of them over-stepping the mark in the breeding department.
Now the wild bunch of frisky boys is facing removal from their island sanctuary in order to give other birds having less luck with the females a better chance.
Deep south to north
Kākāpō are native to Codfish / Whenua Hou island near Stewart Island, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound.
But DOC is planning to shift the frisky males from the deep south and transfer them to the mainland - possibly as far away as the northern half of the North Island.
Kākāpō recovery programme acting manager Ron Moorhouse says a move to Cambridge in the Waikato region could be "on the cards" for some of the studs that need time out.
Under an intensively managed recovery programme, kākāpō have been pulled back from the brink of extinction.
And Moorhouse says that with such a small population, it is important to prevent a genetic bottleneck that could increase the risk of deformities or abnormalities.
"Over successive years we've had this small group of males becoming over-represented in the gene pool. They can become victims of their own success and we can't allow that to continue."
There were also birds which appeared to have deformed sperm, and DOC did not want them to breed with healthy females.
"We have the studs - the successful breeders - and the duds, the ones we have reason to doubt their fertility," he said.
Maungatautari Eco Sanctuary
DOC is looking for a predator-free mainland site for the birds, and has been talking to the private trust that runs Maungatautari, a 3400-hectare forest surrounded by a predator-proof fence, near Cambridge in the Waikato region.
The trust has introduced kaka, but Moorhouse said more consideration needed to be given to ensuring kākāpō could be kept inside the sanctuary.
If the kākāpō were moved to Maungatautari, it’s believed this would be the first time the rare species had been domiciled in the North Island.
The latest group of "studs" is in addition to three adult and seven young males that were transferred from Codfish Island to another secret island location to reduce competition in this breeding season.
But Moorhouse says doing such transfers every year was impractical and expensive.
Kākāpō are nocturnal and while the night owls enjoy after-dark action, they prefer the company of their own species and are scared of humans. Therefore it would be unlikely the public would be able to see the birds if they were sent to the mainland.
However people would definitely be able to hear the parrots’ distinctive boom which Moorhouse says is like a person blowing loudly over a glass bottle.
This year is the 20th year of the kākāpō recovery programme in New Zealand, and rangers are hoping for up to 19 nests on Codfish Island this breeding season. They also hope the birds on Anchor Island will breed for the first time.
Kākāpō can lay two or three eggs and DOC spends about NZ$700,000 a year ensuring safe incubation and hatching of the new chicks.
The 2009 breeding season was the most successful on record and marked the safe arrival of the 100th kākāpō - one of 33 chicks hatched that season.
There were only 51 known kākāpō in 1995 but today, thanks to extensive conservation efforts by a dedicated team, the number has risen to 122.
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