Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Sirocco the Kakapo

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing one of the most charismatic endangered species and one of the inspirations for my career in bird conservation: a Kakapo.  Kakapo are flightless nocturnal parrots (the only flightless parrots in the world!) that once lived all over the mountains of New Zealand.  

Because New Zealand developed for millions of years with no native land mammals, other groups (mostly birds) have filled their roles.  Many birds lost the ability to fly, like Kiwi (bird equivalent of an insect scavenging mouse), Moa (now extinct, bird equivalent of a giant herbivore), and Kakapo.

My favorite thing about Kakapos are their breeding system: males build 'leks', essentially stages to perform for the ladies.  They dig a little bowl up high on a mountain and make loud "booming" noises to attract females from the valley bellow.  Females make their way up, and most end up chosing the same male to breed with: the one with the lowest, sexiest boom.  They do their business, then females head back down the mountain to raise their young with all their girlfriends. 

Due to human introduction of all kinds of nasty predators around New Zealand Kakapo are critically endangered.  As of 2010 there were only 131 individuals left.  Kakapos can now only survive on a few predator free offshore islands and in places where predators are fenced off.
Anyways, check out how GORGEOUS this bird is:

This particular Kakapo (Sirocco is his name) is infamous because he got sick as a young bird and had to be nursed back to health by humans - meaning he imprinted onto humans (raised by a human = he thinks he is a human).  They released him back into the wild after he got better, and everything was going fine until they found him knocking on the research cabin windows, wanting to hang out with the people inside, intead of with other Kakapos. And then mating season came.... 
Once Sirocco reached breeding age he started to do naughty things to researchers, including this famous outburst on the head of a BBC documentary maker:

Anyways, since Sirocco couldn't cut it in the wild, he now serves as an ambassador for endangered New Zealand species.

He is "touring" New Zealand right now, and for $45 (which is donated to the Kakapo recovery fund) you can see him too!

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