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First fertile egg confirmed for kakapo breeding season

13/01/2009 22:30:30

Kakapo female on her nest. Photo credit Don Merton.

Kakapo breeding season 2009 gets underway

January 14, 2009. At least one fertile kakapo egg has been laid on , signalling the start of the kakapo breeding season.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is expecting it to be bumper breeding season for the kakapo, and with conditions similar to 2002 when a record 24 chicks hatched, it is hoped that the kakapo population will top 100.

Potential for 40 chicks
Kakapo Recovery team leader Deidre Vercoe said with more females reaching breeding age and the level of rimu fruiting on the island, this breeding season could produce as many as 40 chicks

Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, where most Kakapo live. Credit Don Merton.

Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, where most Kakapo live. Credit Don Merton.

"Two of the 13 females that hatched in 2002, bred last year at just six years old, which was really exciting because it was previously thought that their breeding age was nine years old. This year we are hoping that all of these now seven-year-old females will nest."

Conservation Minister, Tim Groser says this is an exciting time for the Kakapo Recovery team and is extremely encouraging news for the endangered kakapo.

"I am delighted with this early result - it is really excellent news for the long-term survival of the kakapo. This breeding season has real potential to lift kakapo numbers to over 100 which is just reward for dedicated DOC staff and volunteers."

Kakapo breeding facts

  • The fertile egg was laid by Lisa, a well known breeding female and fathered by Basil. Lisa also laid two more eggs. Their fertility has yet to be confirmed. Kakapo lay between one to four eggs.
  • Lisa usually kicks off the breeding season. In 2008, 2005 and 2002 she was the first to nest and lay eggs.
  • Lisa and Basil mated on Christmas night.
  • The first chick is due in early February.
  • Kakapo also bred in 1991, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008.
  • The small, but increasing, kakapo population sits at 90.
  • Kakapo are managed on two islands - Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, a 1400ha island located about 3km off the coast of Stewart Island, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound, Fiordland.
  • There are 31 males on Whenua Hou/ Codfish Island and 44 females, including 38 breeding females. 15 kakapo live on Anchor Island in Fiordland.
  • In 2008, seven chicks hatched on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Unfortunately, one did not make it. They were transferred to special facilities in Nelson to be hand-raised after not enough rimu fruit ripened on Whenua Hou/ Codfish Island for their mothers to feed them.

Kakapo Recovery is a partnership between the Department of Conservation, Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd and Forest and Bird.

Fertility issues
While infertility has been one of the biggest reproductive issues facing the breeding programme the kakapo team is hopeful for a breeding season like 2008 where there was 100 per cent fertility.

"While we are planning for the best, we are also mindful that this is nature, and factors beyond our control could limit results," Ms Vercoe said. "The whole team is set to go and looking forward to a very busy, rewarding season."

Rimu fruit, on which kakapo rely during breeding seasons. Credit Don Merton.

Rimu fruit, on which kakapo rely during breeding seasons. Credit Don Merton.

Increased genetic diversity
The Department is also optimistic this breeding season will bring with it some genetic diversity through Richard Henry's offspring. Richard Henry is the only surviving kakapo from Fiordland. Until this year his sons, Sinbad and Gulliver had not set themselves up a booming site or attracted a female.

However, with the death of Bill, a successful breeder who died last year of old age, Sinbad has taken over Bill's old breeding site. Gulliver is also set to go with a new ‘track and bowl' breeding site established. Hopefully with more females available this year these two genetically valuable birds will mate.

It is also hoped Richard Henry's daughter, Kuia, aged 11, lays her first eggs this season.


Kakapo nest with eggs. Photo credit Don Merton.

Kakapo nest with eggs. Photo credit Don Merton.

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