Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taonga Species

Kakapo. DOC Visitor Centre, Stewart Island. Feb 2009. Ajr
I’ve just spent a very ‘birdy’ three days working down on Stewart Island and the little pest-free bird sanctuary of Ulva Island, which the Department of Conservation recognises as the ‘Showcase Project’ for its Southern Conservancy. I would have loved to have made it to Cod Fish Island to find out more about one of our rarest birds and the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, which the Maori consider one of their taonga (treasured) species, but time ran out for getting necessary permits. I did however, catch up with this fellow – a taxidermy example – on display at the Stewart Island DOC visitor centre. Hundreds of years ago kakapo were common; now there are only 91 known kakapo left and these are all restricted to pest-free offshore island bird sanctuaries and they are closely monitored by DOC and teams of willing volunteers. When the DOC established the National Kakapo Team in 1995 there were just 51 birds left but thanks to their careful monitoring and breeding programme, the population has increased by 78%. For Maori, the kakapo has strong cultural, spiritual and traditional associations and DOC works closely with the major South Island iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu in their protection and management. Today the birds are also appreciated for their quirky personalities and their odd characteristics – their strange booming noise, the fact that they are known to live to an old age (possibly up to 90 years) and the fact that they are flightless, nocturnal and live in burrows and only in New Zealand. You can find out much more about this intriguing bird and the Kakapo Recovery Programme by clicking on, where you can meet some of the named adult birds personally.

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