Nau mai, haere mai,
Welcome to the final Kākāpō Recovery update for 2016. Our regular newsletters are an easy way to keep up to date with new developments, events and activities.
With contributions from our scientists, educators and partners, these newsletters are your quarterly peak behind the scenes. If you haven't already, sign up below!
2016 breeding season update
Breeding took place on all three islands early this year. A total of 122 eggs were laid although fertility was poor, with 63 fertile in total.
47 chicks hatched, of which 32 are still alive. Unfortunately chick deaths were high this season due to various causes.
This season was the first time that successful breeding occurred on Anchor Island. This is a great milestone in the history of kākāpō recovery as this was the first kākāpō breeding in Fiordland probably since the 1940s.
Kuia bred for the first time, producing four chicks
Kuia (daughter of Richard Henry, the only Fiordland kākāpō to survive and breed in the programme) bred for the first time, aged 18 years, producing four chicks.
The 2016 season was the biggest breeding season ever, since management began. Although the final number of chicks alive equalled the 2009 breeding season.
This season another three 5-year old females bred, after just one in 2014. This is the youngest breeding age known to date.
Kākāpō also bred on Hauturu for the second time since being re-introduced there in 2012. Two out of the four females nested however, neither mother managed to fledge a chick.
Rangers Jen and Lyndsay holding a kākāpō chick
Kākāpō chick Ruth1 getting her first feed
Partners and supporters
New partnership with Meridian Energy
It's an exciting time for Meridian to join the programme and we look forward to what we can achieve together over the next three years.
Meridian Energy is delighted to be the new national partner:
"This new partnership will contribute to the future growth of the kākāpō population by helping to fund research and pioneering conservation techniques relating to genetics, nutrition and disease management and finding new sites.
Since partnering with DOC we’ve been able to help spread the word about the plight of the kākāpō and get our staff involved in helping the kākāpō team. We've also offered a lucky customer a trip to Whenua Hou to see first-hand where the kākāpō live and how they’re cared for by DOC. We look forward to doing more to help raise awareness of
Kākāpō Recovery Programme and inspiring others get involved."
Meridian's latest campaign features Jeremy Wells and Gulliver (the CGI kākāpō). It's designed to increase awareness of the plight of kākāpō.
Thanks to our volunteers
A big thank you to the numerous volunteers who helped us this season. Over 250 volunteers helped with essential work supplementary feeding kākāpō and as cooks feeding rangers and other volunteers, that’s over 28,000 volunteer hours!
In addition, we had specialist help from other DOC staff from around the country along with highly skilled support from Rotorua’s Kiwi Encounter staff, and Auckland Zoo’s staff and veterinary team.
Support from NZAS
A highly valued and long running partnership with the New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) came to an end in December 2015.
However, a core team of highly dedicated individuals from NZAS continued to volunteer their own time, providing vital support with the islands power systems throughout the busy breeding season.
This continued hands-on support is a testament to the passion and commitment the partnership inspired in NZAS staff over the years.
A big thanks from the team for helping us to keep the hut and incubators
James from Auckland Zoo and Andrew doing a pollen swab
James and Kaz microchipping a kākāpō chick
Hand-reared kākāpō chicks Sue1 & Nora1
Science and research
Kākāpō genome project
The Kākāpō 125 project aims to sequence the genomes of all known living kākāpō (125 when the project started earlier this year).
This a world-first for any species. The data will be made publicly available, and the results will bring huge benefits to kākāpō conservation.
So far 80 genomes have been sequenced and fundraising is
continuing for the remaining genomes.
This season our biggest technology improvement was the implementation of ‘Errols’. These ingenious devices remotely collect smart transmitter data and send these via satellite to an email address, so they can be retrieved from anywhere.
These data tells us when birds have mated and who with, significantly reducing time for rangers who would otherwise have to spend long days walking around the island collecting signals manually with a radio receiver. This important mating information allows staff to efficiently plan for artificial insemination of females if required.
(snarks), placed at birds' feed stations, were also improved to collect transmitter data from females. This data helped rangers to identify nesting.
The team are halfway through a three-year study into vitamin D in kākāpō, in collaboration with Auckland Zoo vet staff and vitamin D expert Pamela von Hurst from Massey University. Kākāpō have very low vitamin D levels, yet feed their chicks a vitamin D ‘superfood’ in ripe rimu fruit. The project is aimed at understanding this paradox, and the role of vitamin D in kākāpō health and fertility.
Annual transmitter changes were completed in August and September. This is our main opportunity for health checking birds. Disturbingly, cases of a disease called cloacitis (Crusty bum) on Whenua Hou are on the rise.
While we are generally able to treat the symptoms of this disease, very little is known about it, including its cause. We are ramping up our research into cloacitis over the next year, working with vets and researchers internationally in our attempt to ‘get to the bottom’ of this worrying issue.
With the aim of increasing egg fertility, artificial insemination was attempted in 13 female kākāpō on Whenua Hou.
Technical expertise was provided by Veterinary officer, Dr Sushil Sood, from the Department of Forest Himachal Pradesh in India, assisted by the kākāpō recovery team.
Dr Sood made great gains in collecting high quality semen from several males. However, the artificial insemination was unsuccessful at fertilising eggs additional to those egg fertilised by the naturally mating male.
Further research is required to develop and refine this technique which we know can work from the limited trials that we completed in 2009.
Extracting semen from a kākāpō
There is no anticipated breeding during the upcoming summer, although there is some potential for breeding on Hauturu.
Our team will spend the next months reviewing the programme following this significant breeding season. This will include meeting with the Kākāpō Recovery Group in December.
Donate to help save kākāpō. All proceeds go directly to kākāpō recovery.