Endangered kakapo Barnard found dead
An endangered kakapo first discovered 30 years ago has been found dead, and conservationists fear more deaths could be on the horizon.
Barnard, a male, was found dead by rangers on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island at the weekend, when they went looking for him for his annual transmitter change.
The discovery was a disappointing blow for the Kakapo Recovery team as it brings the number of deaths up to six in the past 12 months.
Caught on Stewart Island in 1982, Barnard was believed to have died from old age, programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said.
He fathered eight chicks, including five of the 11 hatched during the last breeding season in 2011.
"We've had a few older birds die recently and never have been able to detect what was wrong. They just kind of stopped working," she said.
"It's the highest mortality rate that we've had for a while."
Vercoe Scott said about a third of the 125 kakapo population caught on Stewart Island in the 1970s and 80s were now believed to be around 90 to 100 years old.
"We just don't know how old they are. We could have a large group of old birds on our hands that we may see pass away over the next wee while."
She said kakapo deaths were a reminder that, although Kakapo Recovery had achieved a lot during the past 22 years, increasing the total population from 49 to 131 last year, the bird was still a critically endangered species and vulnerable.
"The good news is more than half the kakapo population consists of young breeding age birds and indications are that there will be a breeding season this summer - planning for that is well underway," Scott said.
The Kakapo Recovery team were now looking at technology that allowed them to more closely monitor the bird population, as Barnard's death went unnoticed for three months.
"That technology is constantly changing to increase the information that we can collect. We may be experiencing some problems with how we interpret these complex transmitter signals accurately, so we will be looking into this closely.
"While it won't prevent a kakapo death, identifying a mortality signal as soon as possible means we get better information from the autopsy examination."
The 125 birds are being managed by the Department of Conservation on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, near Stewart Island, and Anchor Island, in Fiordland.
DOC's Kakapo Recovery programme, in partnership with New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited and Forest & Bird, has injected more than $3.75 million towards breeding programmes, predator proof sanctuaries and innovative research.
Its long-term goal is to have 150 females at three separate sites, one of which is self-sustaining.