Curiosity kills the kea, study shows

Last updated 12:59 22/04/2009
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HEAVY METAL: Science student Clio Reid found kea were sometimes getting a lethal dose of lead when nibbling at buildings or sneaking into wheelie bins.

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A science student is calling for lead nails to be removed from old buildings in alpine area, after she found they pose a threat to curious kea.

Clio Reid found kea were sometimes getting a lethal dose of lead when nibbling at buildings or sneaking into wheelie bins.

"Many kea live near human- populated areas so they are at risk from all sorts of hazards when they go exploring, the main one being lead poisoning. Young kea are like little kids - they'll get into anything. Exposure to lead paint or nails in old buildings can kill them."

Ms Reid, a masters of science student at Victoria University, has just completed a study on kea in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park that focused on the relationship between the personality traits of kea and the level of lead in their bloodstream.

"Once lead is in their bloodstream, it can do a lot of internal damage and even kill them.

Ms Reid found that although kea with curious personalities are more likely to have high levels of lead in their blood, the less explorative ones are at risk too.

"You'll often find that a really explorative kea will take the first step and check out new objects like lead head nails, and then the others will follow. Replacing lead nails in old buildings, refraining from feeding kea, and securing objects like wheelie bins will help keep them healthy and safe."

To explore the personalities of kea, Ms Reid presented different wild birds with a bright fluffy toy and watched their reaction.

Originally from Canada, Ms Reid has been fascinated by kea since her first encounter with one.

"They are always doing things that you don't expect, they are hilarious. They do somersaults, play tug-of-war and do all these crazy things.

"They are a unique species and most people know them for their clownish behaviour."

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