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A 30 year wait to see kākāpō up close

A 30 year wait to see kākāpō up close

It was back in the mid ‘70s when Richard Gray, now a Conservation Officer at Zealandia (Karori Sanctuary), travelled to Fiordland with Don Merton to study the last mainland population of kākāpō. Despite weeks spent tracking the critically endangered birds, observing feeding signs, studying habitats and hearing them boom at night Gray never did have a good view of a live kākāpō, seeing little more than a dark shadow moving along a “track and bowl” system at night or a lurid green image on a loaned Forestry Service night vision scope.

Now, 30 years on, Sirocco the kākāpō’s visit to Wellington not only offers visitors a unique opportunity to see this rare nocturnal and flightless parrot but for Richard, who has trained to become Sirocco’s relief-handler, it’s a long-awaited chance to meet, up close, the elusive species that was the topic of his MSc – written just as the species teetered on the brink of extinction.

“It feels like coming full circle,” says Gray. “Seeing kākāpō, and being able to observe how they eat their food, after I spent so much time studying what they ate, is fascinating.”

Gray was one of the last people to study kākāpō in Fiordland before the conservation focus shifted to Stewart Island. His MSc thesis, complete with beautiful drawings, was published years later in the journal Notornis.

Richard’s thesis can be read online: http://notornis.osnz.org.nz/system/files/Notornis_53_1_55.pdf

“Sirocco is a little different to other kākāpō, he was hand-raised after he got a respiratory disease so he’s much more curious with people than other kākāpō would be, but that makes him the perfect advocate and very entertaining for visitors,” says Gray. “The rest of the time though, his behaviour is standard kākāpō stuff. It’s nice to see him wander off up the hill in his larger enclosure here after meeting the public, he seems very relaxed. The local kākā have even been visiting him in the day – hopefully not disturbing his sleep too much.”

Gray considered a career in the Wildlife Service after completing his MSc in 1977 but elected to join the parish, only returning to ornithological work five years ago when he began volunteering, and consequently working, at Zealandia: The Karori Sanctuary Experience.

Now Gray is Zealandia’s kākāriki man. Tracking red-crowned parakeets to their nests is difficult work requiring a lot of patience - much like working with kākāpō.

You too can meet a kākāpō but book quick – Sirocco is only at Zealandia until 3 September.
Go to www.visitzealandia.com/kakapo for more information and to book.

For more information on kākāpō see our ‘Kākāpō facts’ blog post or go to the Kākāpō Recovery website.


© Scoop Media

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