It’s going to be a good year for the Kakapo

January 29th, 2016 | by LubosTomiska
It’s going to be a good year for the Kakapo
Conservation projects
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After unfavourable last years when nesting of Kakapos have been recorded rarely the situation may change. Representatives of Kakapo recovery program believe that in this year 15 pairs can nest. If this prognosis became real the wild population could be increased significantly. Most optimistic opinions expect 30-40 hatched chicks in this season. That’s one third of current population size. At this moment, there are last 125 kakapos living in the wild which are very dependent on the recovery program. Island natural reserves had to be freed from predators and all birds are monitored constantly.

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Kakapos started displaying contrary to cold spring

Why this year should be so prolific? In this year, researchers found out the first copulation of a female who comes from the original population of Kakapos which lived in Fiordland, Anchor island. Genes of these birds are crucial to save the species from extinction. Up to now, only individuals comming from Stewart Island were breeding. Only three birds from Fiordland survive in total, their name are – Kuia, Sindibád and Gulliver. Kuia is the female, other two birds are males. Researchers recorded copulation of Kuia with males from Stewart Island.

„It is exciting news as she is one of just three kakapo with precious Fiordland genes. The mating took place on Anchor Island in Fiordland,“ stated Radio NZ.

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Ornithologists observed copulations also in other six females. Two are found on Whenua Hou Island, four on Anchor. It was a surprise as originally, they expected that breeding will be delayed because of cold spring weather. One of the biggest problem of this recovery program is inbreedng. Most of birds are closely related and therefore genes of birds comming from Fiordland are very important.

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Most of eggs are infertile

The good news is that Kakapo population is growing slowly. On the other hand, researchers are being concerned with a large number of infertile eggs.

„On average only 60 percent of eggs that are laid are fertile, and in the last breeding season, in 2014, only 40 percent of eggs were fertile, which was very disappointing,” said Daril Eason for Radio NZ. This is probably a result of inbreeding and low fertility of adult birds.

“A female who mates twice with the same male has an improved chance of laying fertile eggs, but if she mates with two different males there is a 90 percent chance that her eggs will be fertile,” he added. That’s why recorded copulations of Kuia female with two males seem promising.

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File:Strigops habroptilus 1.jpg

Pura, one year old Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) from Codfish Island. (c) Mnolf. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Some kakapos like the well-known male Sirocco are infertile and so can’t be included in the project. However, this bird is playing an important role in education and getting of new sponsors. Conservationists take him regularly on lectures and therefore he became an „ambassador“ of all Kakapos.

In 1990, this species was at the edge of extinction. Only 51 individuals left in the wild and most of them were old males. Seven years later, recovery program began and the population started growing. Sofisticated techniques like artificial insemination or hand rearing were used to achieve this.

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Kakapos nest every second to fourth year

There are many young males on Anchor island who should reach sexual maturity soon. Therefore researchers are excited to see them breeding.

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“The males that have bred so far on Anchor Island are all young birds, and we don’t know how that might affect their fertility. It’s exciting as we’ve never had so many young males in the breeding population before, but we don’t know what their performance might be.”

Kakapos nest every second to fourth year and the beginning of breeding season is dependent on amount of fruits from Podocarpus trees. Daryl Eason said that Nothofagus trees may play also an important role.

“We don’t really know how kakapo react to beech seeding, but we do know that kakapo used to be widespread in Fiordland and they probably relied on beech seed to raise their chicks.”

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At this moment, this species is found on three islands – Anchor, Whenua Hou and Hautur. All birds have sofisticated transmitters attached to their body. Such transmitters can recognize if there is any female close to the male or if birds copulate. It logs the time they spent together. Researchers get this data every morning so they can analyze it.

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The transmitter recognizes an incubating female

“The rangers on the island can wake up to an email each morning telling them what has happened overnight,” Eason says.

There is a chip „Egg-timer“ in every female transmitter which was originally developed for other flightless birds and now is used for Kakapos. It monitors daily activity of females which usually spend more than 9 hours with finding mates and food sources during the night. However, when they start incubating, daily activity is not longer than 2 hours.

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“It saves us a lot of time walking around islands trying to locate every female kakapo,” Eason says.

Another useful tool in kakapo recovery program is artificial insemination.

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“I’m really looking forward to the day when we can increase the number of chicks being produced just by having more fertile eggs,” Eason says. “It’s always so sad to see infertile eggs.”

Research team is going to use new pumpkin-based food pellets as supplement diet for wild kakapos. They are also ready to hand rear all chicks which wouldn’t be raised by their parents. Generally, natural breeding is prefered to artificial because there is a risk of imprinting.

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Title photo: (c) Mnolf. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. GNU Free Documentation License

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Kakapo season 2016 » Wildlife & Nature Conservation

  2. Pingback: Kakapo season 2015-16 » New Zealand

  3. Kay Boyer says:

    Love your news. Wish I could live in Australia and experience all the variety’s of parrot species that you have.

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