Kakapo History

Don Merton With a Kakapo Chick
Don Merton, with a chick about to be relocated to a predator-free habitat.
Something had to be done, and luckily for the kakapo, people began to be concerned about them. In 1952, the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs appealed for assistance in locating kakapo to begin conservation efforts. From 1958 to the 1970s, the wildlife service made regular expeditions to the Fiordland area and northwest Nelson regions in search of the now elusive parrots. This work was very difficult, the people had to hike in treacherous terrain, along rugged trails in steep areas, in all types of weather. For all of their hard effort, they only found eight birds until 1974, when helicopters were introduced in the search.

Little was known of the kakapos' habits, although they did learn of the kakapo population's rapid decline from 1960-70. By the 1970s, kakapo were left in only two strongholds, the Milford catchment of Fiordland and Stewart Island. In Fiordland, deer and opossums had not yet encroached upon the rugged terrain, thus much of the vegetation survived intact. Predators had not yet arrived in the remote areas to marked extent. This situation was rapidly changing though, and signs of the presence of stoats and cats were emerging in the birds' last safe havens.

Eventually, the kakapo numbers became so low, they had to be relocated to predator-free islands for their safety. This effectively made them extinct on the main islands of New Zealand, quite a concern for conservationists. The Department of Conservation in New Zealand is currently giving these remaining birds a supplemental diet, in order to encourage them to breed. (Kakapo only breed in years when food is abundant, to ensure their chicks' survival).
Hoki contemplates her food options.

There are only around 62 kakapo left. Because there are so few, people are very concerned about disturbing the birds any more than humans already have. Some people think they should be left alone on their islands. Others think the kakapo should be studied vigorously, with as little impact as possible, so that we may discover new ways to help them recover their numbers. It is a difficult issue. Recently, an international team was called in to re-assess the Kakapo Recovery Plan, the guidelines for helping out the kakapo. They suggested more research, and current projects are described in the 1999 Kakapo Update on this site.

Closing Note