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How Kakapos (the Fattest Parrot In the World) Escaped Extinction

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The Kakapo has narrowly escaped extinction, allowing us to continue adoring this adorably chunky parrot.

how the kakapo escaped extinction
©Jake Osborne/flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The Kakapo, a captivating and rare parrot species from New Zealand, boasts a distinctive appearance and unique traits. Renowned as the fattest parrot globally, weighing almost 9 pounds, its striking moss-green plumage serves as natural camouflage.

They narrowly escaped extinction; only 51 Kakapos remained in 1995. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have now surpassed 200, representing a beacon of hope.

In this article, we will dive into all the details surrounding their near-extinction. Starting from when their population started declining hundreds of years ago to the amazing conservation efforts currently underway.

Preserving the Kakapo is more than an endeavor to save an endearing parrot species; it is a call to protect the irreplaceable wonders of our natural world. As guardians of this planet, it falls on us to secure a future where unique and precious species like the Kakapo continue to exist.

Key Points

  • The Kakapo is native to New Zealand and is renowned as the fattest parrot globally, weighing almost 9 pounds!
  • The Kakapo population drastically declined due to hunting, predation, and habitat loss, with only 51 individuals remaining by 1995.
  • Thanks to the Kākāpō Recovery programme, a record-breaking population of 208 individuals today exists today.
  • The programme includes relocating Kakapos to predator-free islands and providing 24/7 surveillance during the breeding season.
  • Their unique “lek” mating behavior further adds to their conservation significance.

Getting to Know the Kakapo

kakapo narrowly escapes extinction

The Kakapo is a captivating and rare parrot species hailing from New Zealand. It boasts a distinctive appearance and an array of unique traits.

Renowned as the fattest parrot globally, these endearing birds can weigh almost 9 pounds! Their strikingly moss-green plumage, adorned with intricate patterns, serves as a natural camouflage in their native forested terrain.

What sets the Kakapo apart is its flightlessness, compensated by strong legs and excellent climbing abilities, allowing it to move adeptly on the ground and scale tall trees. Nocturnal by nature, the Kakapo’s name, “night parrot” in Māori, perfectly encapsulates its behavior.

These chunky parrots are reportedly both docile and friendly. As a result, this enigmatic species has garnered admiration from conservationists and bird enthusiasts alike, inspiring dedicated efforts to safeguard its future in the wild.

The Beginning of the End: When Did Kakapos Start Going Extinct?

portrait of a the endangered kakapo parrot

14th Century – Arrival of the Māori

The beginning of the end for the Kakapo, a flightless parrot native to New Zealand, can be traced back to the 14th century when the Māori arrived. The Kakapo held cultural significance for the Māori and featured prominently in their legends and folklore. Meanwhile, they were also heavily hunted for their meat, skin, and feathers, leading to a decline in their numbers.

The introduction of rats, which escaped from ships, posed another significant threat to the Kakapo population. These rodents voraciously devoured Kakapo eggs and chicks, exacerbating the decline. Furthermore, the Māori cleared vegetation for their settlements and farmlands, further reducing the available habitat for the Kakapo.

Beginning of the 19th Century – Arrival of European Settlers

With the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century, the Kakapo’s situation worsened. The clearing of land for agriculture led to a further reduction in their habitats. Likewise, the introduction of mammalian predators like cats, black rats, ferrets, and stoats heavily increased predation. The Europeans also hunted Kakapos for various purposes, including scientific curiosity, museum collections, and zoos.

Late 19th Century – Realizing the Severity of the Situation

By the late 19th century, scientists realized the impending extinction of the Kakapo and initiated some preservation efforts. However, it wasn’t until 1995, when only 51 Kakapos remained, that conservationists recognized the severity of the situation. They realized they had an emergency at hand and initiated a recovery program.

The Current Status – A Bea(k)con of Hope

Today, there is a glimmer of hope for the Kakapo, with the current population standing at 208 individuals. This is the highest number recorded in over two decades of conservation work! For now, it seems as if they’ve managed to escape extinction.

However, this figure remains critically low for a species, and a major concern is the lack of genetic diversity. The conservation efforts continue to be essential to safeguard the Kakapo from the brink of extinction and ensure a sustainable future for this unique and treasured species.

How Kakapos Escaped Extinction

illustration of kakapo

The Kākāpō Recovery programme initiated in 1995 has been instrumental in the species’ survival. It took drastic action to protect the critically endangered species.

The remaining Kakapos were relocated to five off-shore, predator-free islands, and intensive conservation efforts were launched. Each bird was named and tagged with a smart transmitter to monitor their behavior and whereabouts. During the breeding season, these chunky birds receive particular attention. Nests are closely observed 24/7, and eggs are often removed for artificial incubation to ensure the chicks’ survival.

Additionally, all birds are privy to an annual and complete health check. Conservationists make sure they are free from parasites and diseases and take blood samples. Other than their crucial health care, there is as little interference with their natural lives as possible.

Thanks to these conservation efforts, the Kakapo population has made a remarkable recovery, reaching a record-breaking number of 208 individuals today! However, the small population size still poses challenges, particularly in terms of genetic diversity and fertility rates.

Their Unique Breeding Behavior

YouTube video

The Kakapo’s breeding behavior is as remarkable as the bird itself. This captivating species displays an intriguing reproductive strategy, intimately connected to New Zealand’s natural cycles.

Unlike most parrots, Kakapos are not annual breeders; instead, they engage in “lek” mating, an elaborate courtship ritual. During the breeding season, which occurs every two to four years, male Kakapos congregate in communal areas known as “lek sites.” Here, they engage in intricate displays, including booming calls and inflating themselves like balloons to attract females.

The female Kakapos are highly selective, choosing a mate based on the displays and calls of the males. Once a connection is formed, the pair will mate, and the male takes no further responsibility in raising the chicks.

After successful mating, Kakapo females rely on the timing of a particular tree’s fruiting cycle, particularly the rimu tree, for nutrition to lay eggs and nurture the chicks. This unique breeding behavior underscores the Kakapo’s complexity and contributes to the species’ intrigue and conservation significance.

How Kakapos Escaped Extinction: Wrapping Up

profile of kakapo parrot

In conclusion, the Kakapo stands as a captivating and rare parrot species that has narrowly escaped the clutches of extinction.

The initiation of the Kakapo Recovery programme brought hope for this critically endangered species. Relocating the remaining Kakapos to predator-free islands and implementing intensive conservation efforts has allowed their population to rebound remarkably. From a mere 51 individuals, their numbers have now surpassed 200, marking a significant achievement in preserving their existence.

It is our responsibility as stewards of this planet to continue safeguarding the Kakapo’s future and ensure a sustainable coexistence with nature. This extraordinary parrot, with its unique breeding behavior and enigmatic traits, serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring us to protect the world’s precious species and preserve the rich tapestry of life for generations to come.

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