A Kakapo Celebration

A fantastic announcement was sitting in my Inbox this morning. It was from the New Zealand Department of Conservation. It was to celebrate the 40th hatch days of Heather and Zephyr and to give an update on a juvenile, in care, Milford.

There are only 205 Kakapo in the world. They live on small islands not occupied by humans. Their movements are monitored by transmitters and there are teams of individuals that care for them. If something cannot be ‘fixed’ they are sent off island to the Wildlife Hospital in Denedin, NZ. That is precisely where Milford is at the moment. Milford is a juvenile and he lives on Whenua Hou or ‘Cod Island’.

“Whenua Hou” by Bruce McKinlay is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

During a wellness check, the rangers noticed that he was unable to use his left foot properly. They could not tell precisely what was wrong but, in the forest he would need both of his feet working properly. Milford was sent off island for an evaluation and treatment. X-rays showed that this juvenile had no broken bones. Even so, the technicians were not sure what was the cause of the problem. Milford will undergo a CT scan to see if there are issues with his tendons or subtle changes in his bones that the x-rays could not show. While Milford is waiting for the scan, he wears a blue jandal to help support his muscles and tendons. Isn’t he adorable?

One of the things about Kakapo is that even tho they do not fly, they can get around rather well and they are masters of camouflage. Look at the two images of his feathers below and imagine Milford hiding from the rangers in plain sight!

Hugh is the kakapo in the forest below. The camera is focused on him and he is not trying to hide but imagine if he were! These parrots blend in so well. Their satellite transmitters help the technicians to find them, do wellness checks, and change the batteries in their devices. The human carers try not to interfere with the lives of these critically endangered parrots who cannot fly. However, when it is necessary they will intervene to help them.

“‘Hugh’ Strigops habroptilus (Kākāpō)” by TheyLookLikeUs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This month everyone is celebrating the hatch days of two Kakapo, Heather and Zephyr. Both of them hatched forty years ago on Kakiura Island in 1981. No one knows their specific day of hatch. And no one knows the true life expectancy of these beautiful creatures. What we do know is that Heather and Zephyr are the two oldest living female kakapo.

Heather was not found until she was a juvenile in 1982. At the time of her discovery, she still had the pointy tips on her wing feathers which kakapo have until they have their first moult. Then they become round. When she was found, cats were killing the kakapo on Rakiura and she was relocated to Hauturu-O-Toi.

Zephyr was discovered in Nora’s nest on 17 March 1981 – St. Patrick’s Day. Her father is Rangi. It was thought she was about a week old. Zephyr and her sibling, Adler, were monitored closely until they fledged. At that point each of them disappeared into the forest. Zephyr was discovered nine years later but Adler has never been seen and is feared dead.

Zephyr and Heather have, according to the Kakapo Research team, made amazing mothers. Their personalities are very different. Heather is not a mother who will allow anyone near to her chicks. She is extremely protective. On the other hand, Zephyr loves people and will climb all over them. She does not mind people checking on her chicks. Zephyr’s chicks have become quite the celebrities. Hoki was the first kakapo to ever be hand reared and then there is the international superstar, Sirocco.

Sirocco was born on 23 March 1997 and today – this very day – he is 24 years old. Happy hatch day Sirocco! You became famous, you naughty boy, when you tried to mate with Mark Carwardine, a zoologist, on live television.

I am truly fascinated by these beautiful green parrots that cannot fly. I also admire the work that the New Zealand Department of Conservation does. It is remarkable the care that the wildlife get and every day I get a smile knowing that everything is being done for them that can be. I simply wish that this were the case elsewhere in the world. So, in celebration of my birthday which is also within the range of all of these kakapo this month, my present was symbolically adopting one of the Kakapo. The funds help to take care of them and each year the NZ Department of Conservation earns funds through these adoptions.

My little fellow is Rangi. The word means ‘sky’ in Maori. Rangi was discovered on Rakiura Island in 1981. Through the genetic testing that is done, Rangi is Zephyr’s father. He is also the grandfather to all of the Wind Dynasty Kakapo. Like his daughter Zephyr, he was removed from Rakiura Island because of the cats and relocated to Whenua Hou in 1987. Rangi sure might help the population of Kakapo grow but once they moved him to Whenua Hou, he escaped into the forest and was not seen until twenty-one years later – 2008. That year he received his transmitter. Rangi still does not like people and he will run to the deepest part of the forest to avoid them. He knows precisely where to hide where it is hard to catch him. Somehow I simply admire his tenacity! He is older than Zephyr and Heather who turned 40 – indeed, the researchers must wonder how old he is since he is Zephyr’s father. Rangi, are you the oldest living Kakapo regardless of gender? I wonder.

“‘Rangi’ Strigops habroptilus (Kākāpō)” by TheyLookLikeUs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. This is also the feature image credit.

He is certainly handsome – .

I hope that your day is going really well. And while spring is on pause because it is now snowing in my garden, I hope wherever you are the day is sunny!

Thank you to the Kakapo Recovery for their care of these amazing creatures and their FB Page where I retrieved images for this post.

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