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Kakapo breeding for first time in three years

25 February 2005

Kakapo breeding for first time in three years

Kakapo are breeding again after a three year wait, Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has established that four female kakapo on Whenua Hou island in Southland have recently laid eggs. Birds named Flossey and Margaret-Marie are each sitting on a nest of three eggs. Another bird, Sue, has laid two eggs, and a fourth bird laid three eggs but these appear to be infertile.

“The last time kakapo bred was in 2002, so this is hugely significant for the Kakapo Recovery Programme particularly after last year’s tragic loss of three birds to disease,” Chris Carter said.

"There are just 83 kakapo left in the world. Although it is early days, on current information DOC's kakapo experts believe we may be on track for three chicks this year, which would at least replace those we lost last year.

"We have to mindful that only 40 per cent of kakapo eggs hatch," Mr Carter said.

"But we are also hopeful that we may see even more mating than we have seen to date. Zephyr, another female, has laid eggs every breeding season but has not mated yet," he said.

There are 18 adult males and 21 adult females on Whenua Hou, of which three males (Sass, Basil and Nog) have mated with seven females (Flossie, Lisa, Sue, Margaret-Marie, Fuchsia, Bella, Cindy).

Kakapo Recovery Team leader Paul Jansen said the breeding season was late this year, a result of late fruiting of rimu and other plants. It was unlikely that females would lay more than one clutch of eggs - the record of 24 chicks in 2002 would be unlikely to be repeated.

Kakapo also bred in 1991, 1997, 1998, and 1999. Between 1980 and 1991, when birds were breeding in the wild on Stewart Island, only three birds were produced.

Three juveniles died of a bacterial infection in July last year after birds were moved between Whenua Hou and Chalky Island/Te Kakahu to increase the breeding chances of kakapo.

The cause of infection was diagnosed as a bacterium found in several other species of bird, but recorded for the first time in kakapo, and the survivors were given antibiotics and vaccinations. The erysipelas bacterium was believed to have been spread to Whenua Hou by seabirds. A permanent screening programme against the disease is in place.

To increase genetic diversity among kakapo, a male (Felix) who has sired 30 per cent of the total population joined the juveniles on the move to Te Kakahu and the last Fiordland bird, Richard Henry, was given the prime breeding spot on Whenua Hou.

Richard Henry was yet to show signs of mating behaviour, however, Mr Jansen said.

DOC is continuing to search for more eggs, and waiting to check the fertility of those they have found already.

The Kakapo Recovery Programme has been sponsored by Comalco since 1990, through the Treasured Species Trust administered by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the New Zealand Conservation Authority and DOC. For more information, see www.kakaporecovery.org.nz.

Kakapo facts:

Kakapo are ground-dwelling parrots – they can’t fly but they are excellent climbers. They are the world’s biggest parrots, weighing up to 4 kg. In the breeding season, male kakapo swell up like a porcupine fish and emit a low booming sound that can travel up to 5km. Kakapo look like green owls; they hop about like a sparrow, and emit a strong fruity smell. They’re nocturnal birds and solitary, gathering only to breed. Kakapo feed on seeds and fruits. Kakapo are very long lived – Richard Henry is believed to be at least 50 years old.


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