Campaign saves giant parrot from extinction

Charles Arthur,Technology Editor
Saturday 14 December 2013 03:50

The kakapo, the giant parrot whose near-extinction was first brought to the attention of the modern world by the writer Douglas Adams, has been pulled back from the brink – and could even thrive, with dozens of chicks being born this year.

The New Zealand native, whose scientific name is Strigops habroptilus, is an odd bird at the best of times: nocturnal, with a sweet, fruity smell, prone to making noises that range from growls to "skarks" and metallic "chings", and only able to mate in the year when a certain plant flowers and produces fruits. Kakapos cannot fly but live for remarkably long times – perhaps 100 years or more – and are the world's biggest parrots.

The last surviving animals of the species have produced 26 chicks so far this year, more than in the past 20 years, which means that the "old night bird", as the Maori hunters called it, may once more have a future.

Don Merton, from New Zealand's Department of Conservation, told New Scientist: "After all the years of blood, sweat and tears, it's fantastic to know that the kakapo is not going to die out in a hurry. In fact, it now has an excellent chance of surviving."

But the survival has only been achieved by having humans guard the nests and watch the parrots 24 hours a day and provide them with a special diet to keep them healthy but carefully limit the amount so that the birds would not become too fat. If the birds had put on too much weight, they would produce too many male chicks, thus endangering the species' future once more.

Douglas Adams highlighted the bird's plight in his book Last Chance To See in 1990.

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