Things are looking up for a critically endangered bird known as the world’s fattest species of parrot: New Zealand conservation officials said the rare kakapos have had their most successful breeding season on record.
The large, nocturnal, flightless birds were New Zealand’s most popular bird a few hundred years ago, but just 147 adult kakapos are alive today, according to the Guardian. The kakapo is in the brink of extinction due to hunting, the introduction of pests, and habitat loss caused by farming.
Seventy-six chicks have been hatched this year under the a conservation program by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), and 60 are expected to reach adulthood. This new batch is more than double that of the last breeding season in 2016, the BBC reported.
Kakapos only breed about every two to four years when their favorite fruit grows in New Zealand’s Rimu trees, a southern species of conifer, according to the DOC, whose conservation program consisted of heavy seeding in the New Zealand bush that has produced an abundance of Rimu fruit.
Early fruit counts suggested 209 could be a big year, and sure enough, it’s all happening now, and breeding even kicked off earlier.
“It’s absolutely huge, it’s massive,” Dr. Andrew Digby, a science advisor to the Department of Conservation’s kākāpō recovery program, told the Guardian. “In the last two seasons there have been huge quantities of fruit not seen for 50 years, so that’s why all of the female kākāpō know it is time to breed, and actually started much earlier than usual, meaning some have now been able to nest twice.”
— Dr Andrew Digby (@takapodigs) October 12, 2018
Because the population is so small every kākāpō has a name – including Ruth, Hoki, Suzanne and Zephyr. One kakapos, named Sirocco, even tours the country as an Official Spokesbird for Conservation.
“People fall in love with them,” Digby told the BBC. “They don’t behave like a bird, they’re a little bit human.
Digby said they “even look like a grumpy old man and they all have different personalities.”
The kakapo is subject to one of the most intensive management programs of any species in the world. Infertility and in-breeding have been long-term issues for the birds’ reproductive efforts.
DOC Kakapo Recovery Program consisted of innovative new approaches to improve the breeding success of the critically endangered bird. One project, the Assisted Breeding program, involved semen collection, sperm analysis, and artificial insemination, essentially a “helping hand” for the kakapo to ensure they’re getting the most out of the breeding season.
The DOC also used Smart Eggs — 3D printed eggs that mimic the sounds that would come from a real kakapo egg just prior to hatching, which helps kākāpō moms better prepare for the arrival of their chick, thus improving the care they get in those critical first days.
Digby told the BBC the DOC wants to see population levels hit 500. He added: “The aim of our program is for every child to grow up knowing what a kakapo is, just like an elephant or a lion.”
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