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Long lost kakapo rediscovered after 21 years

10/02/2009 08:29:17

Chris Birmingham who made the discovery. Credit DOC.

One of four kakapo released in 1987 and not seen since has reappeared
February 2009. A male kakapo that has not been seen or recorded for 21 years on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, just off Stewart Island, has been rediscovered, adding his genetics to the small but increasing kakapo population.
Rangi was found by Kakapo Recovery ranger Chris Birmingham after he heard a male booming where there had been no previous booming activity.

Released in 1987 - not seen since
Unable to locate a transmitter signal, Chris investigated further and knew when he saw a leg band that this kakapo was one of four males released onto the island sanctuary in 1987, but had not been seen since.

Important genetic diversity
Kakapo Recovery team leader Deidre Vercoe said Rangi's return not only boosted the kakapo population to 91, but his genetics as one of 24 founding kakapo males from Stewart Island could further increase the critically endangered birds' gene pool.

Rangi's DNA will be tested to determine if his genetic make up is subtly different from the other Stewart Island males.

Codfish Island, home to most of the kakapo. Photo credit Don Merton.

Codfish Island, home to most of the kakapo. Photo credit Don Merton.

Stewart Island kakapo
"His rediscovery has provided us with extra genetic material to work with. The Stewart Island founders have very similar genes, but if Rangi's genes were found to be a bit different that would be a boost for the recovery programme," Ms Vercoe said.

Missing, presumed dead
She said the recovery team had often looked for sign of the four missing kakapo, but after 21 years you cannot help but start to presume they are dead. Rangi's discovery had given the team fresh hope of finding more both on and off the island.

"Here you have a kakapo that remained undetected for 21 years on a highly managed island then consider the scale of Fiordland, there could easily be a few more out there but it's completely needle in a haystack stuff."

Rangi was identified from the ring on his foot. Credit DOC.

Rangi was identified from the ring on his foot. Credit DOC.

Kakapo breeding continues
It has been a big couple of days on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island for the Kakapo Recovery programme with the success of artificial insemination by Spanish vet Dr Juan Blanco.

A female kakapo laid two fertile eggs after she was artificially inseminated by Dr Blanco, a world renowned expert in the area of wildlife reproduction. Ms Vercoe said while it was too soon to know if the eggs were the product of artificial insemination or prior mating, it did show that using the method did not impact on laying."

"This is great news for the recovery effort and a fantastic reward for Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd whose additional funding has supported the insemination programme over the last several years."

Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd, formally known as Comalco, has been providing financial assistance to the kakapo recovery programme since 1990.


Kakapo breeding season update:

  • Of the 39 breeding-age females on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, 19 females have mated.
  • There are now five managed nests and 16 eggs laid. Of those eggs, five have been confirmed as being fertile.
  • Mating is still occurring on the island and is expected to continue until the end of February.
    Sperm from Richard Henry has been used to artificially inseminate a female kakapo in the hope of increasing the genetic diversity of the population.
  • Richard Henry is the only surviving kakapo from Fiordland making his genes incredible valuable. The sperm was of very poor quality, but the team took what might be the last chance to attempt this with his sperm.
  • Eggs fail
    In sad news, Lisa's egg failed to hatch. Lisa was the first female to nest and produce eggs. Two of her three eggs were fertile, one egg died very early, but the second died just before it was due to hatch. The egg got off to a shaky start when Lisa had an encounter with a petrel in the nest, it is unknown whether this had an impact on the egg or not.

    A number of volunteer nest minders are now on the island. They keep a nightly vigil, camping near the nests to ensure the female incubates properly.

Kakapo information

  • Kakapo Recovery is a partnership between the Department of Conservation, Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd and Forest and Bird.
  • The small, but increasing, kakapo population sits at 91.
  • 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 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.




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