Leading article: Mercy flight

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The Independent Online

Take a look at a kakapo and you get a pretty good idea of why it is endangered. It is not just the heaviest parrot in the world; it also can't fly. It is an extraordinarily unsightly bird with a blotched yellow-brown owly face atop its splay-footed body. It only comes out at night. But even in the dark, another kakapo might be forgiven for thinking it too ugly to mate with.

And you can take a good look at a kakapo now thanks to the breathtakingly fine-detailed photograph by Shane McInnes which has just won first prize in an international contest to capture the world's rarest birds. The competition aimed to secure images of the 566 most threatened birds on earth, and it has managed – amazingly – to motivate photographers to uncover nearly 90 per cent of the species currently categorised as either endangered, critically endangered or extinct in the wild.

There is, of course, something deeply depressing about the idea of such creatures being wiped from the face of the globe. But there is also something enormously uplifting about, for example, the photographs that have been taken of a Christmas Island frigatebird in swooping flight or the impossibly orange Asian crested ibis, or the elaborate contortions of a red-crowned crane in courtship display. They are both an inspiration and an admonition to us all.