Poor rimu crop threat to kakapo breeding

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
Kakapo
Kakapo

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Hopes for a successful kakapo breeding season have been dashed after one of the coldest springs on record.

Kakapo Recovery programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said the cold southern spring this year had devastated the anticipated rimu fruit crop.

Studies of the rimu tree on Codfish Island earlier in the year indicated there would be enough fruit to support a healthy breeding season.

"Our rimu fruit count last month shows there has been a 67 per cent decline in fruit abundance since it was last counted in February," Ms Vercoe Scott said.

"This has been the biggest decline in fruit abundance since since we began studying the fruit in 1997.

"We've spent the past few months preparing for up to 15 nests on the island, but the latest data from the island suggests we may be looking at only several nests this season," she said.

Female kakapo use the availability of the fruit as a cue for breeding, she said.

The male kakapo would still be booming - where the male inflates like a balloon and emits a low booming sound - but it was up to the female to choose if she wanted to breed, Ms Vercoe Scott said.

If there were no nests, the Kakapo Recovery team would collect the male kakapo sperm for the recovery centre's artificial breeding programme.

Fertile sperm would be frozen and used as a genetic resource for the future.

The sperm would be used to artificially inseminate females to increase fertility and minimise the loss of genetic diversity, Ms Vercoe Scott said.

She said there were some rimu trees with good fruit supplies and if they were located in a female's home range, some nesting could still occur.

Volunteers were providing females with supplementary food pellets scientists hoped would be accepted as an alternative to rimu, to feed any chicks hatched.

With only 125 kakapo left in the world, Ms Vercoe Scott said it was important work to increase bird numbers and genetic diversity continued.

The news of the poor breeding season follows an announcement by the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter in August it was going to pull out of its $200,000 a year sponsorship of the Kakapo Recovery programme.

NZAS general manager Ryan Cavanagh said the smelter would be unable to continue supporting the Kakapo Recovery programme because of financial difficulty, but was committed until 2015.

DOC spokesman Rory Newsome said yesterday the department was satisfied with the NZAS commitment to the Kakapo Recovery programme until 2015.

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Discussions were continuing with Rio Tinto before other options were considered, he said.

neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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