Monday, January 30, 2006

Animal of the Week January 30, 2006 -- Kakapo

For me, the highlight of a weekend is likely to be the finding of a pub that serves continental lager at over £3 a pint and in which an ironic DJ plays a selection of country classics. Fortunately, most people I know seek more from their life. So while my brain slowly turns to jelly to the strains of Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman, others might be trekking up a mountain, doing an intensive trapeze course, or working in an A&E department in a foreign country (not all at the same time obviously).

The natural home for these adventurous types is, it seems, New Zealand. This remote outpost of Australasia has more than its fair share of geography, and this, combined with isolation, has created a great wealth of exciting wildlife, including Strigops habroptilus (kakapo [parrot of the night]).

The world's heaviest parrot (weighing in at up to 4 kg) is also one of the world's rarest parrots (not quite as rare as Spix's macaw or the echo parakeet of Mauritius). Kakapos are also notable for being the world's only flightless parrot, until about a thousand years ago, the only predator they had to worry about was Haast's eagle (AOTW 03/01/05), against whose sharp sight and sharper talons, looking like a heap of moss and freezing at the first hint of danger were adequate defence. The arrival of Maoris may have signalled the end for Haast's eagle, but where fate gives to the kakapo with one hand, with the other fate fills their home with rats.

As the small Polynesian rat chomped it's way through New Zealand's flightless birds, kakapos just about managed to cope, and when European's arrived they were still quite widespread. The arrival of the pakeha may have been bad news for the Polynesian rat, but where fate gives with one hand, with the other fate fills the kakapo's home with even bigger rats, cats, and stoats.

Now, 84 birds live on two mammal-free islands, having been removed from Fiordland, their last toehold on the South Island, a few years ago to protect them from predation. Kakapos might not fly, but these crazy birds are good climbers. Their future hangs in the balance, but for now at least, on a spring evening, you may still hear the deep booming mating call of the males echoing across the hills of Chalky and Codfish islands.


At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am writing from TERI Press, the publishing arm of TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute). We are developing a book on question n answers on environment, and would like to use the photograph of kakapo parrot.

We would appreciate it if you could grant us permission or let us know the terms and conditions of usage. We will provide credits.
You can contact me at []

Thank you.

At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!


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