Kakapo, The New Zealand Parrot: Scientists Struggle To Save It From Extinction - |Ads4naira Blog|

Kakapo, The New Zealand Parrot: Scientists Struggle To Save It From Extinction

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Kakapo, The New Zealand Parrot: Scientists Struggle To Save It From Extinction

A monumental effort is underway to save one of New Zealand's best loved birds from extinction. Large, plump and nocturnal, the kakapo is the only parrot in the world that lives on the ground and cannot fly. There are only 211 in existence, confined to four small islands off the New Zealand coast. What the kakapo lacks in numbers, it makes up for in personality, says radio producer and presenter Alison Ballance. Her podcast, Kākāpō Files, which documents the fight to save the bird, has attracted listeners from around the world. "Gorgeous, hilarious and amazing," the kakapo has a "serious, but slightly goofy" character, she says. "They've got this ancient wisdom thing going on as well. You get the feeling this is a species that has been around for a very long time and is slightly marooned in the modern world." Andrew Digby, kakapo science adviser to the New Zealand government, is on a mission to save the beleaguered bird. 2019 has been the most successful breeding season on record. "Between January and April, 86 chicks were born, of which 70 are still alive," says Digby. But it has also been a year of tragedy. Nine birds have died of a respiratory infection called aspergillosis, which is caused by an airborne fungus. It's the latest in a series of challenges the kakapo has faced since its home was first invaded by humans, about 700 years ago. A paradise for predators Before Polynesian settlers arrived in New Zealand around the 13th century, its forests squawked, chirped and tweeted with bird life. The only mammals were a couple of species of bat. Kakapos were abundant throughout the country and bumbled around in relative safety -- the only significant threat came from birds of prey circling in the sky above. That all changed when the first boatloads of people disembarked, along with hunting dogs and stowaway rats. When kakapos sense danger they freeze on the spot. This strategy can fool an airborne eagle but doesn't deter ground-level hunters. The early settlers "ate the kakapo, used their feathers to weave cloaks and carved their bones into fish hooks," says Tane Davis who represents the Ngāi Tahu-- the main "iwi," or Māori tribe, of New Zealand's South Island -- in kakapo conservation. He says Māori people still maintain a strong spiritual connection to the kakapo, whose name means "parrot of the night" in their language. When Europeans arrived in the 18th century, "things really started to fall apart," says Davis. The colonists brought with them a menagerie of new predators including two more species of rat, mice, cats, stoats, weasels and ferrets from Europe, and possums from Australia. New Zealand was "a paradise for those pests," says Davis. "All our native species became threatened." Kakapo numbers plummeted. By 1995, there were only 51 birds left, says Digby. The current mission to save them was launched the same year. Saving the kakapo All surviving kakapo now live on four islands that have been cleared of predators: Whenua Hou, Anchor, Chalky and Hauturu. Forty percent of kakapo eggs are infertile -- most likely as a consequence of inbreeding -- so Digby and his team have turned to technology to boost success rates. In some cases, artificial insemination is used to pair specific birds thought to be good genetic matches. This year, the team added a drone to the kit list to speed up the transfer of sperm between teams working with birds in different locations. Once the females have produced a clutch of eggs, most eggs are removed and placed in incubators. "We tend to be more successful at raising kakapo eggs than kakapo," says Digby. "We break less of them." After hatching, each mother is given only one chick and the rest are hand-reared -- to ensure they all receive enough food. The scientists also use genetic information from the birds to investigate the infertility problem and match breeding pairs to maximize the chances of healthy chicks. Each bird is microchipped and equipped with a smart radio transmitter, worn like a backpack, that tracks its location, monitors activity, identifies mates and alerts the conservation team if the bird stops moving. The transmitters also control how much food the birds receive at feeding stations. It's essential to control the birds' diet, says Digby. Left to their own devices, kakapo only breed when New Zealand's rimu trees burst into fruit -- about once every two to four years. "We give them supplementary food during the breeding season to trick them into behaving as if there's lots of fruit -- so they will breed more often," says Digby. Males receive as much food as they want, but females are kept at a sweet spot of around 3.3lbs (1.5 kg). Too skinny and they are unlikely to produce eggs; too chubby and they will have mostly male chicks -- an evolutionary adaptation that benefited the species when the birds were plentiful but is not the best strategy to increase numbers quickly.

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