Frisky pin-up parrot gets personal attention

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 30/10/2011
sirroccowide
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

PARROT FASHION: DoC ranger Alisha Sherriff responds to famous Sirocco's needs no matter the hour.

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Playing wingman  to the world's most famous parrot is more than a fulltime job for Alisha Sherriff – it's a labour of love.

The Department of Conservation ranger is Sirocco the kakapo's minder and personal assistant, which means she is at the native parrot's beck and call round-the-clock.

She oversees his public appearances, gets his meals ready, cleans his house, looks after his fan mail, ensures he gets his beauty sleep and that no one ruffles his feathers.

It's a demanding assignment that has required Sherriff to move into premises within metres of Sirocco's enclosure at Wellington wildlife attraction Zealandia, so that she can respond to his needs no matter the hour.

Despite the long hours, Sherriff is more than happy with her lot, and admits she has become very attached to her charge, one of only 129 kakapo in the world and the only one on the mainland.

"He is my responsibility and if anything happens to him it's on my head," she told the Sunday Star-Times.

Sirocco shot to fame in 2009 when his frisky antics were caught on film by a documentary crew filming the series Last Chance to See with zoologist Mark Carwadine and the celebrity Stephen Fry.

The film footage of Sirocco climbing on Carwadine's head and mimicking mating has been viewed on YouTube more than 3.3 million times, propelling the male parrot to international stardom.

He is now the poster boy for the kakapo recovery programme and has his own Facebook page.

People are even willing to pay for his spewed food. Online auction site Trade Me is currently running an auction of masticated pine needles infused with Sirocco's saliva. The auction, which closes this evening, has already attracted numerous bids.

Sherriff said she had heard lots of stories about Sirocco before she took up her position, and he had more than lived up to his billing: "He's wild in every aspect apart from the fact he does like to interact with people, and unfortunately mate with people as well.

"He's really good. He's really gentle, playful and mischievous. He can be a little bit naughty at times, but he is quite endearing. I didn't think I would get this attached to him.

"It will be quite sad when I have to say goodbye."

And that time is fast approaching as Sirocco will soon leave Zealandia for the wilds of Maud Island. He will spend a few months there in solitude before returning to the celebrity circuit next year.

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- Sunday Star Times

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