Known to be the heaviest parrot in the world, the flightless kakapo of New Zealand has been critically endangered for decades. However, a successful breeding season in 2016 bodes well for the future of the species. Conservationists are hopeful that continuing efforts can prevent the extinction of the species and ensure a thriving future.
Once kakapo were ubiquitous over the North and South Islands of New Zealand, but the introduction of predators from outside such as cats and weasels decimated the population. The bright green parrots were considered extinct until a number of them were found on Stewart Island in the 1970s. However, by 1977, the population had dwindled to only 18 birds. In the 1980s and 1990s, the remaining kakapo were moved to several predator-free islands to ensure their survival. As of early 2016, the population has grown to 123 adults, and these numbers have been bolstered by the 2016 addition of a record 37 chicks.
Because it takes 9 or 10 years for the parrots to reach sexual maturity and they breed every 2 to 5 years, kakapo numbers generally grow slowly. To facilitate population growth, conservationists artificially inseminate females after natural mating, offer adults supplementary food during breeding seasons, and hand-raise chicks if food is scarce. Additionally, rangers use remote transmitters and monitors to observe nesting sites, so that they are aware of which birds have mated and how efficiently females are nesting. Scientists are also engaged in the process of sequencing the genomes of the entire population of kakapo.
The lovely, charismatic kakapo could possibly have the longest life spans of any species of parrot, and preventing their extinction may allow conservationists to eventually reintroduce them to areas where they used to thrive — such as New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island.