Kakapo Update

June 1999

Sixty two kakapo, including 6 juveniles from the 1999 season are known to
survive - 26 females : 36 males. These are currently located on 5 off-shore islands
to which they have been relocated since 1975 to protect them from
introduced predatory mammals. Fifteen, (9 males : 6 females) are progeny
raised since 1991 of translocated birds. The remainder (47) are from
Stewart Island, with the exception of an aged male known as "Richard Henry"
- the last known surviving individual from the New Zealand mainland. No
natural population is known to remain.

Some recent highlights include:

  • an unexpected breeding event on Pearl Island in early 1999 has proved to be the most productive in recent times! Whenua Hou/Codfish Island birds were moved temporarily to Pearl in 1998 to facilitate rat eradication on Whenua Hou. While on Pearl five females produced seven nests (14 eggs). In addition, a nest of 3 eggs was found on Little Barrier. Eggs were artificially incubated & chicks hand-reared at Burwood Bush. Eleven eggs were fertile, of which 8 hatched. Six juveniles including 4 females survive. This is the third successive season during which some breeding has occurred;

  • these juveniles are the first to have been hand-raised from hatching - an important advance in management capability;

  • the first kakapo egg to have been incubated artificially for its full term was hatched at Burwood Bush during the 1999 season. This event has important implications for future management, and has enabled us to finally confirm the incubation period as ~30 days;

  • confirmation that kakapo are in fact capable of laying a second clutch of eggs within one season: After many years of speculation this question has finally been answered. This important discovery may well provide a means by which to boost productivity in the ultra-slow breeding kakapo;

  • heavy females (ie of around 2kg body weight before breeding) are not only able to breed, but are capable of renesting if recycled early in the season. The two females that laid second clutches this season weighed between 1.8 & 2.4 kg during the months preceeding the 1999 breeding season. Previously, no heavy female is known to have bred and efforts have therefore been made to limit the weight of supplementary-fed birds.

  • the recapture of "Lisa", a female "lost" for 13 years on Little Barrier Island: Lisa was last seen when her transmitter was removed in 1986. She was found in March this year incubating three viable and well advance eggs. These were hatched artificially - all three are female!

  • two further females are now known to be capable of producing fertile eggs - thus, 13 (~65%) of the 20 adult females are known to have laid fertile eggs since the rediscovery of females in 1980.
  • To date, 47 of the 62 kakapo have been transferred between islands during 1999 (see distribution table below). Age is known for 17 birds (~ 27% of the population) hatched since 1980. The remainder are of unknown age - but greater than 20 years. Overall, subadults now comprise ~21% of the population - ie. 13 subadults : 49 adults (6 (~23%) females & 7 (~19%) males are subadult).

    One adult death is known to have occurred in the last year - the male "Ken" died in July 1998 as a result of complications from a transmitter harness injury that occurred in mid-1995. This is the only known adult death in the last 5 years.

    With 12 juveniles raised in the last three seasons, and just one adult death in the last 5 years the kakapo species is at last showing signs of recovery!

    Hauturu/Little Barrier Island:
    One female is known to remain on Little Barrier.

    The Kakapo Management Group and Kakapo Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee resolved in March 1998 to remove all kakapo from Little Barrier Island (LBI). Over the previous 16 years it had been shown that female kakapo on Little Barrier must be intensively managed in order for them to breed successfully. However, Little Barrier is large (3,000ha) and extremely rugged, and it has proved impractical to intensively manage kakapo there. Only two (male) young were raised there in 16 years.

    Three female kakapo were transferred from LBI to Maud Island in May/June 1998. All had free-ranged on Little Barrier since 1982 and all three had bred - one raising a male chick in 1991. During August 1998 one male was transferred to Maud and two males were transferred to Nukuwaiata/Inner Chetwode Island along with a male from Maud. (The fertility/breeding fitness of the latter three males is in question). The last 5 males were transferred to Codfish Island in May 1999 and the remaining female ("Lisa") is to be moved to Maud in June .

    The female Lisa had not been seen since her transmitter was removed in 1986. However, in early February Saskia Wood & Mike Imber found classic mating sign at the summit track and bowl system (court) indicating that at least one of two "lost" females survived. Allan Munn & Murray Willans and their dogs were quickly brought in to search likely parts of LBI for any nesting female, and in a "needle in the haystack" quest, Allan & his dog found Lisa incubating 3 eggs! Since Lisa had not been trained to take artificial foods, and rats are present on LBI, her viable & well incubated clutch was transferred to the Burwood facility for artificial incubation and rearing. All 3 eggs hatched in March, all 3 are female and in early June were transferred to a pre-release pen on Whenua Hou.

    A further male & female ("Snark" & "Mike"), not seen since their transmitters failed (9 and 17 years ago respectively) may still survive. No sign of the missing male Snark was found during an intensive search of the LBI arena in late January 1999 when all known males were active there.

    At least 16 of the original 22 kakapo released on Little Barrier in 1982 still survive, giving an average annual survival rate of ~ 99%. Maud Island: Seventeen birds (8 male and 9 female) are on Maud. Three chicks - 2 male and 1 female - were raised in 1998. This was the first breeding recorded on Maud and indicates that kakapo can adapt to and breed effectively in an alien environment - an exotic pine plantation on a small (309ha), heavily modified island. This, and the successful transmission of genes from the male "Richard Henry", the last known kakapo from the NZ mainland, into the new generation and the survival of all three chicks - including a female - is cause for real optimism.

    There was little arena activity and no breeding on Maud during the 1999 season.

    Nukuwaiata/Inner Chetwode Island:
    Three males are on Nukuwaiata.

    During August 1998 two males were transferred from LBI to Inner Chetwode/Nukuwaiata along with one male from Maud. Fertility of the former two is suspect, and the latter has a leg injury which may compromise his ability to mate successfully. The three are to be monitored in order to assess the suitability or otherwise of Nukuwaiata as kakapo habitat since this island has been identified as a contingency for Maud kakapo in any emergency.

    No arena activity was seen this season.

    Whenua Hou/Codfish Island:
    Thirty two kakapo (13 female : 19 male) are on Whenua Hou.

    All 30 transmitterised kakapo were removed from Whenua Hou in 1998 to aleviate any risk from poisoning during an attempt last winter to eradicate rats from the island. Twenty six birds (13 female : 13 male) were transferred to Pearl Island, 2 males to Anchorage Island and 1 male ("Ken") and 1 female ("Nora") to Maud Island in April/May. Two pulses of anticoagulant bait were broadcast on Whenua Hou by Southland Conservancy in August. One non-transmitterised male ("Bonus") could not be located at the time when birds were being moved and he remained on Whenua Hou. He was located in October by Dave Rodda and Mike Anderson and was unaffected by the poisoning operation.

    Twenty six kakapo held temporarily on Pearl & Anchorage islands were returned to Whenua Hou, and those on Anchorage were placed on Pearl Island in April 1999. The last 5 males from LBI were released on Whenua Hou in early May 1999, and Lisa's three juvenile females from the 1999 season were transferred to a pen on Whenua Hou in early June.

    Twenty five of the original 30 birds released on Codfish Island in the late 1980's - early 1990's are known to survive, including all 10 females, giving an average survival rate greater than 98% per annum.

    Pearl Island:
    Six male kakapo are currently on Pearl.

    During April 1998 four males (of dubious fertility) from Pearl (two had been there since August 1996 and two since September 1997) were transferred to Anchorage Island, and twenty six birds from Whenua Hou were placed on Pearl in anticipation of an attempt to eradicate rats from Whenua Hou. All but 2 (males) of the latter birds were returned to Whenua Hou in April 1999. Some received limited food supplementation while on Pearl to ensure they were in good condition for the move back to Whenua Hou.

    Males on Pearl developed track & bowl systems ("courts") and all ten adult males were heard booming during 1998/99 summer. Signs found since 3 January indicate that ~13 matings occurred. Five of the 12 adult females laid - two of them ("Suzanne" & "Alice") laying second clutches (1 & 2 eggs respectively) in early March, 4 - 5 weeks after removal of their first clutches. In total, 14 eggs are known to have been laid, 8 of which were fertile. Because of the high risk of predation by weka and rats, eggs were removed soon after laying for artificial incubation. In spite of this policy, Alice's 2nd egg of her 2nd clutch was predated before it could be collected. Artificial eggs placed in Suzanne's & Alice's second nests (1 in each) were also taken - apparently by weka.

    Two eggs from Alice's first clutch of 3 were viable and were moved from Pearl to the Burwood Bush Rearing Unit in late February. The more advanced of the two hatched on 27 February - the first kakapo egg to have been successfully incubated artificially for its full term! As an added bonus, this event has enabled us to finally confirm the incubation period as ~30 days. Eight of 11 fertile eggs (including 3 from LBI) hatched, and 6 juveniles (including 4 females) survive. All young were sexed within days of hatching using DNA obtained from blood remaining in their egg shells after hatching. The current breeding season has been the most productive since intensive management began in 1989. Top marks to Daryl Eason & the Burwood and Pearl Island teams for this excellent result.

    Never before has laying occurred so soon (9 - 10 months) after birds have been translocated - or over such an extended period (almost two months).

    Anchorage Island:
    The 6 males held on Anchorage since April 1998 were returned to Pearl (4) & Whenua Hou (2) in April 1999.

    In May, Matt Charteris was appointed Kakapo Programme Officer (KPO) Maud Island, filling the position vacated by Dave Rodda last December. Ken Richardson, an aviculturist from Rotorua, Alison Archambault, a veterinarian specialising in parrots, from the USA, Gideon Climo of the National Kakapo Team and Dave & Karen Rodda (on contract), plus a number of volunteers have assisted Daryl Eason of the National Kakapo Team in hatching and hand-rearing kakapo at the Burwood Bush Rearing Unit this season.

    Some recent kakapo publications:

    Anon. 1999. The kakapo chicks on Maud Island. FMC. Bulletin of the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ. 136. 22-23.

    Chalmers, Kirsty. 1999. Geo News : big birds fly south. NZ Geographic, 42: 9-11.

    Climo, Gideon. 1998. Management of a captive kakapo on Maud (Te Hoiere) Island. Report covering 'Hoki' kakapo's first two years, July 1992 - June 1994. Science & Research Internal Report No 161. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

    Climo, G. & Ballance, A. 1997. Hoki - the story of a kakapo. Godwit Publishing, Auckland.

    Clout, Mick N., & Merton, Don V. 1998. Saving the kakapo: the conservation of the world's most peculiar parrot. Bird Cons. International. 8 : 281-295. BirdLife International.

    Jansen, Paul & Elliott, Graeme. 1998. Kakapo Recovery Programme Annual Report : 1997/98 financial year Department of Conservation, Wellington.

    Macalister, Andrew. 1998. The adventures of Sinbad. BBC Wildlife. 16; (11), 12 - 16.

    Merton, Don. 1999. Kakapo. In: Higgins P.J. (ed.) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds. Vol. 4: 633-646. RAOU. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

    Merton, Don & Clout, Mick 1998. Red Data Bird : Kakapo Strigops habroptilus. World Birdwatch. BirdLife International. 20, (3) : 20 - 21.

    Merton, Don & Clout, Mick. 1999. Kakapo : back from the brink.Wingspan, magazine of Birds Australia. 9: (2) 14-17.

    Trewick, Steve. 1998. Kakapo: the paradoxical parrot. Nature Australia. 26 (3); 54 - 63.

    Web sites:
    Department of Conservation - www.doc.govt.nz
    Comalco New Zealand Ltd - www.comalco.com.au

    Kakapo known to survive : June 1999

    Female Male
    Subadult Adult Subadult Adult Totals
    Fiordland Believed extinct since 1987
    Stewart Island Population relocated 1980-97
    Codfish Island 4 12 3 16 35
    Maud Island 2 7 4 4 17
    Little Barrier Island 0 1 0 0 1
    Chetwode Island 0 0 0 3 3
    Pearl Island 0 0 0 6 6
    Totals 6 20 7 29 62

Zealand Department Of Conservation - Te Papa AtawhaiThis update provided by:
    Don Merton
    National Kakapo Team.
    June 1999

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