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Kakapo chicks hatch on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island

31 March 2008

Kakapo chicks hatch on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island

The eagerly-awaited arrival of some of New Zealand’s most precious babies has started, with the hatching of five kakapo chicks in the last two weeks.

As of Saturday 29th March, the world’s population of kakapo has been boosted from 86 to 91 with another two eggs due to hatch over the coming fortnight.

While seven chicks might seem like a relatively small birth rate – for the Department of Conservation staff who monitor and protect the kakapo, it’s fantastic news.

“Boosting the population from 86 to 91 is awesome especially considering these birds only breed every few years,” kakapo recovery team leader Emma Neill said.

Minister of Conservation, Steve Chadwick said the new arrival of kakapo chicks reflects New Zealand’s international reputation in species conservation programmes.

“It is a credit to the Department of Conservation to have brought this species back from the brink of extinction, and we should take pride in the fact that our efforts with kakapo are recognised throughout the world,” the Minister said.

Kakapo last bred in 2005 when four chicks were produced, but the record year was in 2002 with 24 chicks.

The exciting thing about the breeding this season is that two of the younger females, have bred for the first time. These birds are six years old, which is considered quite young for kakapo breeding, as prior to this the youngest females to breed were nine years old.

“The kakapo breeding season is always a special time, but this discovery makes it even more exciting. It could change the way kakapo breeding is managed in future.”

The other great news is that this year, there was 100% fertility of the kakapo eggs.

“In the last breeding season in 2005, the overall fertility rate was just 58%, and because not every egg results in a hatching and not every hatching results in a healthy chick, we are doing all we can to improve survival rates,” Ms Neill said.

Meanwhile, down on Whenua Hou, it’s all systems go, as DOC staff and volunteers work around the clock to look after the new arrivals. Giving the chicks the best chance means nest-minding volunteers keep a nightly vigil; camping near the nest to ensure the female incubates properly, and sometimes covering the eggs with heat pads when she leaves to ensure the eggs do not go cold.


Like many anxious new parents, the volunteers must cope with being woken all hours of the night, as they keep vigil. However, unlike most new parents, they must also get used to sleeping in a tent, carrying heavy gear around tough terrain and working in rough weather, without many of the comforts of home.

But the volunteers say that being part of an internationally significant recovery programme and knowing they have played a crucial role in helping the recovery of New Zealand’s most endangered bird more than compensates for the small inconveniences.

Volunteers come from all over the country, and include employees of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, owned by Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd; sponsors of the Kakapo Recovery Programme since 1990. NZAS General Manager, Paul Hemburrow says “We have a number of our employees on standby waiting to help with nest minding duties on the island. Everyone is very excited about the prospect of a breeding season this year.”

Because the kakapo population are found on offshore predator free islands which are closed to the public, the Kakapo Recovery Programme has created a new website for people to learn about what’s happening (www.kakapo.org.nz), which includes regular updates from field staff living on Whenua Hou. This website has proved very popular both here and overseas, with visitors from as far afield as Egypt and Kazakhstan.

ENDS


More information:

* The Kakapo Recovery Programme is a partnership between Department of Conservation, The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand (Inc) and Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd (formerly Comalco New Zealand Ltd). This partnership was established in 1990.

* A high number of infertile eggs are produced by female kakapo.

* Fertility is confirmed using a method called candling – holding the egg up to torch light in a dark environment to see if an embryo is forming.

* The most recent breeding seasons on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island have coincided with the fruiting of podocarp forest, and particularly rimu trees, on the island.

* During the breeding season a large number of volunteers will assist the kakapo recovery programme on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island.

* Kakapo are managed on two islands – Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, a 1400ha island located about 3km off the coast of Stewart Island and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound, Fiordland.

* Up to four full-time staff work on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island year-round making sure the birds are safe, healthy and well-fed, but only seeing or handling kakapo once or twice a year for their regular health checks. Most of the monitoring is carried out from a distance through the use of radio telemetry.

* Check out www.kakapo.org.nz for more information

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