Heavy metal hurting native birds

Lead poisoning up among kaka

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 04/12/2013
Kaka
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
ARE YOU O-KAKA? Vet Danielle Sijbranda holds one of kaka.

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The kaka's penchant for unusual food has left a handful of chicks with the staggers and struggling not to throw up.

A spike in lead poisoning among New Zealand's resurgent endemic parrot population is being investigated by researchers.

Massey University's Wildbase Hospital in Palmerston North had two dead kaka chicks come in, and a post-mortem revealed lead poisoning was the cause of death.

They then found the birds' three nest-mates were also showing signs of being poisoned, including changes to their blood cells and nervous systems, causing the birds to regurgitate food and lose balance.

Wildbase veterinarian Danielle Sijbranda said the birds' initial health check-up, including bloods and X-rays, came back normal, indicating the lead poisoning was not caused by something they had ingested.

"We don't see anything in their inside with these chicks, but we think it's something stored in the system."

Metal is believed to taste sweet to kaka and the birds are known to chew on house fittings, like nails, roofs and guttering, which may be lead-based. But because Massey's trio are juveniles and their stomachs were empty, it is thought their mothers may have passed the poisoning on to them, Dr Sijbranda said.

The lead metal particles in their mothers' stomachs may have leached into their blood, storing in their muscles, tissue and bones, before being shared through the egg-laying process to their chicks, she said.

The birds have begun five-day chelation therapy cycles, which is injecting agents to help remove heavy metals from the body.

If the treatment is successful the chicks will be released to the Boundary Stream nature reserve in Hawke's Bay.

The Palmerston North trio are among a growing number of kaka being poisoned.

Wellington Zoo vets and Zealandia sanctuary staff have also reported high levels of lead in some of their birds' recently and are also looking at possible solutions.

"It's becoming a problem with kaka around Wellington in particular, but other towns may be seeing the same thing," Dr Sijbranda said. "As soon as you get kaka close to the human habitat, there's going to be problems because they're just so inquisitive and want to try to eat everything."

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