Editorial: Never said it would be easy

Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013

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OPINION: He didn't name names, but we all knew Raybon Kan's target when he railed against the "fraudulent sickness beneficiaries" of New Zealand native birdlife.

What Gareth Morgan is to cats, Kan is to kakapo. Not a big fan; at least not when he's in combative mode such as he was last year when Forest & Bird unwisely included him among celebrities each invited to champion an endangered bird, the voted victor to be declared Bird of the Year.

The result was PR carnage. Feathers flew as Kan, on behalf of the karearea or New Zealand falcon, waged a campaign that was itself red in beak and claw.

While praising his bird's toughness under a "New Zealand's got talons" catchphrase, he turning predatory on its "stuffed toy" rivals.

These were cute but "a bit unco". [Unco, may we explain to older readers, is youth argot for unco-ordinated. Argot, may we explain to younger readers is . . . oh, never mind.]

In fact, these unco birds were "downright remedial, playing the sympathy card asking for a handout from the Government".

Not for the first time, attack prevailed and much like Gandalf on the back of that eagle at the more-or-less end of The Lord of the Rings Kan rode the New Zealand falcon to victory with the voters while the poor old kakapo finished fifth.

This hasn't been a vintage time for the kakapo recovery programme based on Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) but we should raise a defiant gesture Kanwards and insist that the rarest species of bird found only in New Zealand is still defiantly unstuffed.

That said, it is no small thing that Rio Tinto Alcan has announced it could no longer afford to continue its two-decade sponsorship. Similarly it would be no small thing if further corporate support could be rallied. Mr Kan's "beneficiaries" tag is unworthy given the range of support from the commercial world and the community. It's too important a project to be entirely reliant on the government.

The Kakapo Recovery Programme organisers don't put it that way, of course. They simply note that it was people who introduced the predators that hunted the kakapo for food and now it is people who are helping the kakapo get back on its feet.

It is regrettable, but not some portent of doom, that a cold, wet spring stopped the Whenua Hou rimu fruiting. It's the abundance of that fruit that sets a female kakapo into procreational mode, without which the males may hoon around the island making make their famous booming noises as much as they like, to no avail.

Not a single kakapo chick will hatch for the second successive barren year. At least not as nature intended. There may be some artificial insemination attempts, which cannot be too terribly difficult to co-ordinate judging from the now world-famous footage of Sirocco taking a fancy to the back of zoologist Mark Carwardine's head.

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Meantime, we are stuck with a world population of a scant 125 for what was once the third most common bird on our shores. It just shows how fraught these programmes are and how difficult the long-term recovery of the kakapo is going to be. We've known that for a long time, mind you. The important thing is whether the humans are still willing. The kakapo seem to be. Just ask Carwardine.

- The Southland Times

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