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Young kakapo head for Aphrodisiac Isle

Fri, 2 Jul 2004

Young kakapo head for Aphrodisiac Isle

2 July 2004

Department of Conservation staff will transfer 17 kakapo, among the most threatened bird species in the world, between two remote islands tomorrow (NOTE: Saturday July 3) to improve their breeding prospects, with a second transfer of birds planned for Tuesday July 6. The 17 kakapo are being moved between Whenua Hou (Codfish) Island near Stewart Island and Te Kakahu (Chalky) Island in Fiordland.

The DOC team leader for the Comalco-sponsored Kakapo Recovery Programme, Paul Jansen, says the transfers will improve the chances of more frequent breeding for kakapo, by exposing 19 young kakapo hatched in 2002 early in life to a beech forest habitat. "Rimu masts (prolific seeding events) are a known trigger for kakapo breeding and usually occur each 3-5 years. Beech masts occur more often - on a one to two year cycle.

"As with people, kakapo may learn things best early in their lives. By moving the 2002 chicks to a beech forest environment, we hope they will learn about new things such as feeding in beech forest and considering beech seed as a trigger for breeding - a sort of kakapo aphrodisiac. Because beech produces seeds more often than rimu, we hope that we can make kakapo breed more often by teaching them that beech is a suitable food to support chicks." There is no beech forest on Whenua Hou.

At the same time, older birds with value to the kakapo breeding programme are being relocated to Whenua Hou in preparation for a predicted rimu mast in 2006. "As kakapo have a mating system where males compete for females, some males have been dominating the breeding stage" says the kakapo team's scientist Dr Graeme Elliott.

"We have now moved some dominant males away from the breeding arena, and are going to relocate our most genetically distinct males (Richard Henry and Piripi) into prime breeding real-estate to give them maximum odds of attracting female attention. The last rimu mast on Whenua Hou was in 2002 and we have high hopes for a masting event in 2006." Moving kakapo between islands is currently necessary because of the limited space on both of the current kakapo islands (Whenua Hou and Te Kakahu).

To give kakapo more room to roam, it is hoped to transfer half of the current population to Anchor Island in Fiordland in April 2005. Due to the threat from introduced predators on the mainland, kakapo and many other endangered birds are currently entirely confined to life on pest-free offshore islands..

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 'sonic' boom that can travel up to five kilometres

-Kakapo look like green owls, they can hop like a sparrow and growl like a dog, and they're known for their strong fruity smell

-They're nocturnal birds and solitary, gathering only to breed

-They're very long lived - Richard Henry is believed to be nearing 50 years old

ENDS

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