December 14, 2017. Life / Back from the Brink
Russell A. Mittermeier, Anthony B. Rylands, Wes Sechrest, Penny F. Langhammer, John C. Mittermeier, Michael J. Parr, William R. Konstant, Roderic B. Mast
The world’s 350 or so species of parrots are distributed across the tropical and subtropical latitudes. They range from the tiny pygmy parrots of New Guinea to the majestic macaws of the rainforests and savannahs of Central and South America, and many are of conservation concern—about 100 species are ranked as threatened on the IUCN Red List. One is extinct in its natural range and now persists in the wild in only a few areas of predator-free habitat on offshore islands, where it was translocated by conservationists. That parrot is the Kakapo.
With big males tipping the scales at over 3 kilograms, the Kakapo is the world’s heaviest parrot. It is nocturnal, and with its rotund shape and big eyes is also known as the owl parrot. It is flightless and its inevitably slow reproductive rate is balanced by it being possibly the longest-lived bird in the world. Kakapo have an average life expectancy of at least 60 years, with some birds believed to live to more than 100 years.
Across its native range in temperate New Zealand, the Kakapo was once abundant and widespread from near sea level to high in the mountains. It was hunted by the Maori and later by European colonists, but also introduced predators—stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats, and cats—significantly decimated its populations.
The birds and their eggs made easy meals, and by about 1930 they had disappeared from New Zealand’s North Island and were gone soon thereafter from most of South Island. The bird’s decline was so drastic that for a time it was believed extinct. In 1977, a rapidly declining population of about 150 birds was discovered on Stewart Island. Cats and rats were eating the birds, and this last substantial group was evacuated to predator-free islands.
Within these tiny specks of predator-free habitat, and with very few birds remaining, an intensive conservation program was put into effect that included Forest and Bird and additional conservation partners.
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series volume BACK FROM THE BRINK (2017)