Sirocco steals the show despite hectic schedule

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2014
Sirocco
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: Mikaela Davidson, 7, up close and personal with Sirocco at the Sanctuary Mountain, Maungatautari.

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Sirocco had the tiny visitor under his spell.

Seven-year-old Mikaela Davidson could not peel her blue eyes off the patriotic parrot, all dressed in green, nor the delicate whiskers that hung over his short beak.

"Can we come back next year mum?" she pleaded, when her time with the bird was up.

Thanks to his charming personality, Sirocco leaves his home in Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds for about two months each year to tour.

It had been two years since Sirocco was previously hosted by Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust, and he was such a hit last time that the six-week stop had to be stretched to 10.

Now he's back for another six - and on a night natural heritage manager Matt Cook described as "colder than a mother-in-law's embrace," Waikato Times was invited to witness the bird's showmanship.

The high-maintenance parrot is undeniably a rock star - he had his own seat on a plane when he flew to Hamilton, he's the pin-up boy for conservation, media fawn over him, and he won't take visitors in the morning.

His popularity has DOC contemplating even grooming an understudy to help with the star's demanding schedule.

But being one of just 126 kakapo left in the word, and the most prolific individual of his species, servicing his needs is a no-brainer.

"The long-term dream is to have [kakapo] back on the mainland but we're still quite far away from that," minder Alisha Sherriff said.

Kakapo translates to "night parrot", and Sirocco's tours were scheduled to suit his nocturnal habits.

The bird adored attention, and loved nothing more than shaking his tail feather for visitors.

His enclosure was a medley of logs, ferns and foliage, all of which Cook said were carefully quarantined and sprayed with antiseptics before coming into contact with Sirocco.

While he paraded along one log, the flightless bird lifted his wings as if to say "I have these, but no-one can tell me why".

"The more kids we have on the tour, the more excited he gets," Sherriff said.

Young twins Shaun and Ella Baucke, from the Kiwi Conservation Club in Whatawhata, were suitably impressed by the emerald enigma.

"I wanted to take him home," said Shaun.

"He's really cute and chubby," added Ella.

Sadly, the chubby chap is infertile so won't be adding to the kakapo pool, but it was fair to say he made up for his sterility by being the face of the Kakapo Recovery Programme.

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"He's still doing his job for advocacy and for promoting Maungatautari," Sherriff said.

As Sirocco bowed to the crowd, centimetres from the perspex frame that separated us and him, Sherriff said his friendliness was not typical for kakapo.

"He was sick in a nest at 3 weeks old, and removed and hand reared, as a result he became imprinted.

"Our wild kakapo we could not do this kind of thing with," Sherriff mused.

After the public tour, our photographer pulled on a head-to-toe outfit better suited to the set of drug-fuelled drama Breaking Bad so he could safely rub shoulders with the priceless parrot.

Sirocco had no qualms sharing space with our looming white-washed figure. He got so close to the camera, our photographer had to be wary he didn't mount the lens.

The owl-like shape of the kakapo face means the birds have a great sense of hearing, support co-ordinator Jen Iles said.

Kakapo can live to 90 and weigh up to 4 kilograms, Iles said. At 17, Sirocco is just a teen, and on the light side at 2kg.

The Kakapo Recovery Programme aims to establish at least two managed populations of kakapo and another self-sustaining population, each with at least 50 breeding-age females, in a protected habitat.

To book a tour with Sirocco go to sanctuarymountain.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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