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Kakapo Sarah recovers from unfortunate injury

Kakapo Sarah recovers from unfortunate injury

An important breeding kakapo who had the misfortune of injuring her “private parts” when she unintentionally sat on a sharp stick, has been successfully rehabilitated at Auckland Zoo, and is to return to her home on Codfish Island.

A Department of Conservation (DOC) National Kakapo Team member discovered Sarah and her predicament in late October when he tramped out to her Whetu Track home to do a routine check-up on her. She was urgently flown to Auckland to be treated by the vet team at the zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM) - the provider of veterinary services for the kakapo recovery programme.

“Sarah was in a potentially life-threatening state when she arrived. She had a nasty wound to her cloaca and had lost a lot of weight through not being able to forage,” says vet, Dr John Potter.

“She’s responded exceptionally well to treatment and has proven to be a quick healer. She’s also been self-feeding on kumara, apple, nikau berries and other native plants, which has meant that we’ve been able to keep tube feeding her with high-protein parrot formula to a minimum. Kakapo don’t generally self-feed in a captive situation, so that’s been especially pleasing. By nature, Sarah is a very feisty bird, and I think this has also contributed to her fast recovery. Since arriving she has put on over 170 grams, and now weighs over 1140 grams,” says Dr Potter.

Programme manager for the National Kakapo Team, Deidre Vercoe, says while Sarah is unlikely to breed this coming season due her needing time to recover from this recent accident, she is a good breeder and is likely to breed again in the future.

Sarah, who is being flown home tomorrow morning, is one of the original founder kakapo birds from Stewart Island. Discovered there in 1989 and relocated to Codfish Island, she has produced two offspring in the past six years – six-year-old male Ariki, and three-year-old female, Pounamu.

The total kakapo population is currently 90 birds, but Ms Vercoe says that with the bumper breeding season expected this coming summer, due to the heavy fruiting of rimu trees, that figure is likely to rise.

Ms Vercoe, along with a team of kakapo experts from around the country including zoo vets, has been at Auckland Zoo this week for a kakapo disease risk-assessment workshop in preparation for the coming season.

While DOC already has stringent protocols in place, this is serving as a review, and to assess if any further measures need to be implemented.

About the kakapo
The critically endangered kakapo is the rarest parrot species in the world.
Total population: 90 on two islands – Codfish Island (Whenua hou) off the north west coast of Stewart Island, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound, Fiordland.

Kakapo live many decades. How long is uncertain, but mortality figures indicate that the average life span is 90 years. Most original founders from Stewart Island, still living, were found as adults between 1980 and 1989. The last remaining Fiordland male was found in 1975, at the time an adult of unknown age.

There are 44 female and 46 male kakapo. Twenty females and 22 males originate from Stewart Island, and one male comes from Fiordland. The rest have been produced on sanctuary islands, primarily since 1997. No other kakapo are known to survive in their original habitat, due to predation by cats, stoats and rats.

Breeding: The kakapo population reached an all-time low of 51 birds in 1995. Earlier this year (2008) six chicks were produced from five nests on Codfish Island, a very minor breeding season.

A large breeding season is anticipated next year on Codfish Island because of a very heavy crop of rimu fruit presently forming on the trees. Breeding seasons in successive years is a very unusual event. The last large breeding season was in 2002, when 24 chicks were produced.


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