Poisoned kakapo fighting fit again

01:43, Jan 31 2009

A kakapo suffering lead poisoning and on the edge of death has been saved by the Auckland Zoo.

The rare bird known as Lee was one of 24 male kakapo from Stewart Island that was moved to Anchor Island in Fiordland in April.

In August the Department of Conservation (DOC) found Lee had lost a lot of weight, losing a kilogram down to 1.2 kilogram.

He was flown to Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM) for emergency care.

"When Lee arrived, we didn’t have tremendous expectations for him because we didn’t know what was wrong with him, and he was at a dangerously low weight," Auckland Zoo vet Dr John Potter says in a statement.

They found he had toxic levels of lead in his system.


A calcium compound cleared that up.

"It’s hugely pleasing to see Lee so healthy now. He’s put up with twice-daily tube feedings to enable us to get his weight up to more than 1.7kg, and for a bird that’s been held in captivity for the first time, he’s really pretty chilled out.

"We won’t know fully how he is until he’s been back in the wild for a couple of months, but he’s off to a pretty good start."

DOC’s technical support officer for the National Kakapo Team, Daryl Eason, says lead is a common contaminant in the environment and the source could be something like a fisherman’s sinker or gunshot.

"Lee’s situation appears to be an isolated one, as all our other kakapo on both Anchor Island and Codfish Island are in good health, with no weight loss.

"However, as a precaution, we are now blood testing and performing routine health checks," says Eason.

Lee is bound for Codfish Island – his old stomping ground for 25 years.

Lee, one of just 91 kakapo in the world, was found on Stewart Island in 1983 and is at least 25 years old.

DNA results indicate that he could have bred in the past as his genes are represented in other birds, though he has not been observed breeding.

"After this winter’s setback, it’s unlikely he’ll breed this year, but he still has plenty of time for that," says Mr Eason.

Fairfax Media