Kakapo deaths hit endangered species

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 09/05/2014

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The critically endangered kakapo species has lost two of its precious population.

After the celebrated arrival of six new chicks into the flock this season, two adults birds have died on Codfish Island. The rare and much loved parrots now have a world population of 128.

Kakapo Recovery programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said the two kakapo died several weeks ago in separate circumstances. The news was held until tests could be done to determine the cause of their deaths.

Kakapo Ben was one of the original founder birds transferred to Codfish Island from Stewart Island.

Although his exact age was unknown, he was old, Vercoe Scott said.

"Ben was winding down in recent seasons and was probably at the end of his lifespan."

Kakapo live for more than 60 years.

An autopsy revealed Ben's death may have been related to kidney failure as a result of old age. More critical to the survival of the kakapo was the death of 3-year-old female Taonga.

"As a young female, Taonga potentially had 60 years of breeding ahead of her," Vercoe Scott said.

Further tests were needed to determined the cause of death.

"She was really emaciated and in poor condition which may have made her susceptible to disease or the elements," Vercoe Scott said.

Taonga was brought in from the wild and attempts were made to use supplementary feeding to help improve her condition. However her weight dropped further and she died, she said.

It was important to continue to find out what caused the breeding female's death, Vercoe Scott said. "Every death was a learning opportunity. We could discover steps to put in place to prevent further deaths."

Nearly 40 per cent of the kakapo population were older birds of unknown age.

The Kakapo Recovery programme was working with West Virginia University in the United States to help work out the age of the kakapo.

"We are collecting small skin samples from the birds and sending them to the university. Using the chemical compound pentosidine found in the parrots' protein, scientists can compare the results to kakapo with a known age," Vercoe Scott said.

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- The Southland Times

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