For those of you who missed tonight's Catalyst Program on Kakapos

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: For those of you who missed tonight's Catalyst Program on Kakapos
From: knightl <>
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2003 22:34:26 +1000
As much as I am tempted to say "losers" [a few words are no substitute for watching footage of a kakapo] , here is the transcript from
tonight's show ...

                          Saving the Kakapo
  Thursday, 13 February 2003

Determination and science saved the Kakapo
Catalyst reporter Jonica Newby travels to remote Codfish Island in the south of New Zealand to find out how hard work and science have
saved one the world's most charismatic birds - the flightless Kakapo
from extinction.

Only in a land that until recently lacked mammals could such a large,
friendly and flightless bird exist. But rats and cats wreaked havoc on the Kakapo and, by 1995, there were only 30 birds left in the whole

Not only that - they weren’t breeding. It looked like curtains for the Kakapo, until a band of scientists and volunteers stepped in, determined to throw everything they had at saving this unique bird. The story of how they managed to solve the puzzle of Kakapo breeding and bring this bird back from the brink is one of desperation, dedication, and scientific detective work. (full transcript...)

 Reporter:  Jonica Newby
     Producer:  Ian Cuming
  Researcher:  Robyn Smith

Full Program Transcript:
Narration: We’re heading south, off the southern tip of New Zealand, to an island virtually no one’s allowed to visit. This is the home of the legendary kakapo – the rarest bird on earth. It was thought to be doomed. But here, scientists took a desperate last stand - to rescue
the kakapo from the very jaws of extinction. Their story is simply
extraordinary One of central characters in this astonishing tale is
Graeme Elliott. He’s the chief scientist of the Department of
Conservation’s Kakapo recovery team. And he’s agreed to take us on the
long, muddy trek to the Kakapo. We arrive at night. Kakapo are
nocturnal. We’re about to meet a creature very few people in the world have ever seen.

This is Sinbad. He was hand reared, and has fond memories of humans.

Jonica Newby: What sort of personality does he have?

Graeme Elliot: He’s one of the most mild – I mean you can stick your fingers in his mouth. He’s a very mild mannered chap and he’s the
friendliest of our tame birds.

Narration: Sadly, Sinbad also shows how his species became so
endangered. Kakapo are ground dwelling parrots. They can’t fly. And
they show no fear. Only in a place like New Zealand, which had no
mammal predators, could such a bird evolve. But when humans introduced killers like dogs and stoats to New Zealand, the defenceless kakapo were decimated. By 1995, extinction looked certain. Their numbers were down to just 50.

Graeme Elliot: We were very worried at that stage. We only had 50 birds and over the previous four or five years we had lost more birds than we had produced. So we were on a slippery slope then.

Narration: What’s worse, those 50 birds weren’t breeding.

Graeme Elliot: I suppose at that stage we thought there was a real risk that they would disappear. In the extreme crisis, Graeme and his
colleagues hatched a daring rescue plan. But to have a chance of
success, they had to solve the mystery of why they weren’t breeding. The next morning, deep in the forest, Graeme takes me to the scene of his first detective work. Because amazingly, they uncovered the secret to the Kakapo’s sex life here, in this ancient tree - New Zealand’s magnificent Rimu.

Narration: Kakapo only breed once every four or five years. And the
reason is high in the canopy.

Jonica Newby: How is it looking?

Graeme Elliot: Oh it’s good. This one’s got a lot of little green fruit
on it and this one’s got a lot. If I was Kakapo I would come up here and eat them.

Narration: It turns out that in order to breed, Kakapo need a trigger. A burst of highly nutritious food. And there’s only one such trigger on
this island. These tiny fruit.

Jonica Newby: So those little birds are climbing all the way up here?

Graeme Elliot: Yes they’re scrambling up these things and wandering
around here chewing up little bits so they’re obviously coming up here to look to see if the Rimu is fruiting.

Narration: Most years, however, the Rimu is fruitless. And that, they
realised, was why the kakapo wouldn’t breed. Graeme couldn’t force the
Rimu to fruit, but he could learn to use the fruit to predict breeding years. It was one vital mystery solved. But he soon faced another.

By 1999, they’d mounted a massive intervention, and were starting to have some breeding success. But there was a catch. The big problem was most of their chicks were boys. To build a sustainable breeding
population, they needed girls. So what on earth was going wrong? The
answer, ironically, lay in their own efforts to help the bird by giving them supplementary food.

Jo Joyce: So the bird is supposed to walk along, eat from this, keep
walking up the track, eat the apple, keep walking up the track and find the hopper.

Narration: Unfortunately, some birds are greedy. And that, it turned
out, was the source of their boy trouble.

After checking the records, Graeme realised that in Kakapo, the gender of the chicks depends on the mums weight. Overfeeding had made the mums fat. And fat mums produced male chicks. If they wanted females, there
was only one – drastic – solution.

Graeme Elliot: We had to put our girls on a diet and some of them went on a real diet and they lost a lot of weight. Yeah we had some girls who were two and a half kilograms and now they’re back down at one and a half and they hated it.

Narration: The birds may have hated it, but at last the scientists had the keys to the kakapo’s revival. All they needed now was a chance to put their theories to the test. Then, in 2001, the Rimu began to fruit. After a five-year wait, finally a big breeding season was on. An army
of volunteers were recruited. Everyone of the 50 odd kakapo on the
island was going to be watched 24 hours a day.

Graeme Elliot: At one stage we had 17 nests on the go at once so we had 34 people on the hill minding nests and then we still had people
looking for new nests and things like that.

Jonica Newby: So it was like big brother for the Kakapo. I mean they
couldn’t move …

Graeme Elliot: No they couldn’t move … we saw the eggs come out of their bottoms. We were there when the chicks hatched.

Narration: This was really make or break for the Kakapo.

Graeme Elliot: I came across this little chick who was having trouble
hatching. Now that was a really nerve racking thing. So you’re picking away at these things with tweezers absolutely scared that you’re going to rupture and have the little thing die in your hand. They are really precious and they’re tiny, tiny delicate little things when they hatch.
So there’s fear more than elation when you’re handling the things.

Narration: The babies were checked constantly. At the slightest sign of illness, they were hand reared. But the result? Simply miraculous. 24
healthy new kakapo.

Jo Joyce: It’s amazing you know to have 24 out of 26 chicks survive is pretty fantastic.

Narration: In just one season, they’d raised the number of Kakapo in the world by 40%. Most exciting of all, the majority of the chicks were girls. And this bird, young Aurora, is one of the girls from that
miraculous year.

Graeme Elliot: We feel great. We’ve put in a lot of work, but it’s all
paid off.

Narration: And while it is still touch and go, the events of last year have given these scientists hope – hope that one day, they can back
off, leaving the Kakapo safe enough to face the future on its own.
Birding-Aus is on the Web at
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the message
"unsubscribe birding-aus" (no quotes, no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • For those of you who missed tonight's Catalyst Program on Kakapos, knightl <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU