The Kakapo may not be New Zealand’s favorite bird, but it is certainly up there. When it comes to New Zealanders and birds, there is likely no competing with the Kiwi, a bird whose unique personality has come to encapsulate all things New Zealand. With that said, the Kiwi is not the New Zealand bird who was banned from participating in last year’s New Zealand “Bird of the Year” in the interest of giving other entrants a turn in the spotlight. No, that would be the Kakapo, two-time winner of the competition and beloved symbol of New Zealand’s unique and charming population of parrots.
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It’s not hard to see why the Kakapo attracts so much adoration. Squat, chubby, and bright green, with round owl-like faces, these birds are undeniably cute. With such a positive global reputation, you might be surprised to learn that mainland New Zealand has not been home to a Kakapo since the 1980s.
New Zealand has historically been a paradise for birds. This is due, in large part, to the lack of terrestrial mammalian predators. Besides two very rare and tiny bats, New Zealand has no endemic land mammals at all. This meant that birds could thrive in the forests and mountains of New Zealand. But it also meant that when invasive mammalian predators were introduced, mostly in the early 20th century, New Zealand’s birds didn’t really stand a chance. Rats, stoats, weasels and other mammals are a threat that the Kakapo and its fellow New Zealand birds simply did not evolve to contend with.
This is why, since the 1980s, the tiny remaining population of Kakapos lived on a few islands off the shores of New Zealand which were devoid of these predators. In recent years, however, Kakapo conservation efforts have been so successful as to warrant the reintroduction of these birds to mainland New Zealand. In a landmark achievement by conservationists, four male Kakapo are being relocated to a fenced sanctuary on the mainland.
It is a long-anticipated and joyful homecoming. At their all-time lowest, Kakapos numbered just 51 total individuals. Now, their numbers have climbed to over 250. While this may not seem like a substantial population, it is a massive step in the right direction. If these Kakapo can survive in safety on the mainland, then one of New Zealand’s most unique and beloved birds may once again have a future in its home country.
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