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  • Bird Conservation International, Volume 8, Issue 3
  • September 1998, pp. 281-296

Saving the Kakapo: the conservation of the world's most peculiar parrot

  • Mick N. Clout (a1) and Don V. Merton (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2010

We review the conservation history and describe the current status of the Kakapo Strigops habroptilus, a large New Zealand parrot which has been reduced to only 54 individuals through predation by introduced mammals, and is now threatened with extinction. Unique amongst parrots, Kakapo are both flightless and nocturnal. They have an unusual mating system in which females nest and raise their young unaided by males, after mating at traditional “courts” at which males display visually and vocally. Mating occurs naturally only in seasons of heavy fruiting of podocarp trees. A decline in range and abundance of Kakapo followed the introduction of alien mammals last century, and culminated in their reduction to a single breeding population on Stewart Island. Following a severe episode of predation by feral cats Felis catus, all known birds from this last population were translocated to a series of cat-free offshore islands. Adult survival on these island sanctuaries has been high (c. 98% per annum), but productivity has been low, with only six young (including a single female) raised to independence since 1982. Reasons for this low productivity are the naturally intermittent breeding of Kakapo, the low numbers of nesting females, high rates of egg infertility (~ 40%), and the early death of most nestlings through starvation or suspected predation by Polynesian rats Rattus exulans. These rats are present on both of the island sanctuaries where nesting has occurred. The Kakapo sex ratio is biased in favour of males (34:20) and only 8 of the 19 adult females are known to have laid fertile eggs in the past 10 years. Management of all remaining birds is now highly intensive, involving radio-tagging of all individuals, the provision of supplementary food, attempts to manipulate matings, nest surveillance, and protection against rat predation.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M. N. Clout and J. L. Craig (1995) The conservation of critically endangered flightless birds in New Zealand. Ibis 137: S181–S190.

B. J. Karl and H. A. Best (1982) Feral cats on Stewart Island: their foods and their effects on Kakapo. NZ J. Zool. 9: 287294.

D. V. Merton (1976) Conservation of the kakapo: a progress report. Proceedings of Seminar on Science in National Parks, August 1976. Wellington: National Parks Authority.

D. V. Merton , R. D. Morris and I. A. E. Atkinson (1984) Lek behaviour in a parrot: the Kakapo Strigops habroptilus of New Zealand. Ibis 126: 277283.

R. J. Moorhouse and R. G. Powlesland (1991) Aspects of the ecology of Kakapo Strigops habroptilus liberated on Little Barrier Island (Hauturu), New Zealand. Biol. Conserv. 56: 349365.

R. G. Powlesland , B. D. Lloyd , H. A. Best and D. V. Merton (1992) Breeding biology of the Kakapo Strigops habroptilus on Stewart Island, New Zealand. Ibis 134: 361373.

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