The following is an outline written by Don Merton of the New Zealand
Department of Conservation. He has been working towards saving the
kakapo for the past thirty years.
- Species rediscovered- two males were located in Esperance Valley,
Fiordland. (Subsequently these were transferred to Maud Island as a part
of a conservation programme.)
- First sound recordings obtained- including a range of calls (other
than booming). Many of these calls have not been recorded again, and
some are still used by Radio NZ in its broadcast "morning birdcall"!
- The first cine footage of a live kakapo was obtained by TVNZ.
- Established that kakapo are solitary in habit.
- A further five (males) found in Fiordland (one of which was
transferred to Maud Island).
- Booming and associated (dancing) display observed, described and
photographed for the first time (via light-intensified scope).
- First sound-recordings of booming call obtained.
- Discovered significance of "tracks" and "bowls"- i.e. that "track
and bowl systems" have a courtship function and that the booming call is
in fact part of courtship display and is produced from in or near a bowl
- Proposed hypothesis that kakapo have a "lek" courtship system
(hypothesis rejected by most NZ authorities!).
- A total of 18 (males) now known in Fiordland- concluded that this
represented an aged, fragmented, remnant, single-sex population that was
beyond recovery. Technically, the kakapo was already extinct.
- Species rediscovered on Stewart Island (about 200 birds)-
including largest active "arena" known this century (over 20 calling
males)- a reprieve for the kakapo and for those striving to save it!
- Established that females still exist! On Stewart Island
captured the first (4) females since the turn of the century:
Survival and recovery of the species thus became a realistic
- Established that, contrary to some early reports kakapo (both sexes)
are in fact entirely flightless.
- Field research by New Zealand Wildlife Service, Department of
Conservation and University researchers- often under extremely difficult
conditions- provided important advances in knowledge and understanding
of social behavior, home-range size, movements, foods and feeding
behavior and courtship and breeding behavior.
- Confirmed that Richard Henry's (much maligned) contention, dating
from the 1890's that breeding occurred only in those years when booming
was heard, and that booming occurred synchronously within a population
at 2-3 yearly intervals, was in fact substantially correct.
- Established that kakapo are entirely herbivorous.
- The first cine record of booming display was obtained on Stewart
Island by Natural History Unit, TVNZ.
- The first (2) nests seen since the turn of the century were found on
- Made the first observations of a female and nestling at a nest.
- Obtained the first sound recordings of nestling calls and of feeding.
- Obtained the first still and cine photographic record of behavior at
- Confirmed that the female alone tends the nest.
- Discovered that predation by feral cats was rapidly destroying the
Stewart Island population. Cat control measures were instigated and
proved an effective short-term solution.
- Entire (remnant) Stewart Island population (61 birds) was relocated
to (4) off-shore islands so as to protect it from feral cats, thus
effectively destroying the last natural population known. This is one of
a very few instances anywhere where every known individual of a species
(genus in this case) has been relocated. (No losses occurred in
- Lek mating hypothesis finally accepted. With publication (in "Ibis")
came general acceptance and the opportunity to at last integrate
implications of this important behavioral discovery into management.
- Booming was heard for the last time in Fiordland. Of the 18
males located in Fiordland during the 1970's only three are known to
have survived there until 1987- all three were heard booming early in
that year. Since then there has been no indication that the species
still exists in this, its final stronghold. Thus, it seems the kakapo
is now extinct throughout the main islands of New Zealand.
- "Kakapo Recovery Plan: 1989-94" developed and implemented- the first
such plan for a threatened New Zealand animal.
- Kakapo Recovery Group established to oversee implementation of
Recovery Plan- the first threatened species recovery group established
in NZ. The Plan and Group ushered in a new (now widely accepted) concept
in threatened species recovery in NZ.
- Major sponsorship agreement formalized: Comalco (NZ) Ltd. undertook
to sponsor the Kakapo Recovery Programme for the duration of the
Recovery Plan (5 years)- the first major sponsorship involving a
threatened NZ species.
- Resolved that due to the fact that breeding had not occurred on
Little Barrier Island since translocation seven years earlier, further
intervention was necessary: Supplementary feeding of some Little Barrier
Island females began in an attempt to induce breeding.
- Pilot supplementary feeding programme involving up to five females
on Little Barrier Island proved practical and effective not only in
facilitating reproduction, but increasing the frequency of breeding
attempts. Four of the five supplementary-fed females laid- two of
them in successive years- and two young were raised in 1991. This
simple but important experiment confirmed (i) that translocated kakapo
can breed successfully; (ii) that with support successful breeding is
feasible on Little Barrier, and (iii) that given adequate nutrition
kakapo are capable of laying at 12 monthly intervals.
- "Richard Henry" a male kakapo transferred from Fiordland to Maud
Island in 1975- and in 1982 from Maud to Little Barrier Island- was
found alive and in good condition on Little Barrier. He is the only
individual from the South Island known to exist, and since his
genetic contribution is considered important efforts are being made to
bring him into the management programme.
- At least five (non supplemenary-fed) females on Codfish Island
achieved breeding condition and four are known to have hatched chicks.
However, natural food crops failed with the result that (with the
exception of three nestlings rescued for hand-raising, one of which
survived) all young starved: the "non-intervention" policy which until
this time had applied on Codfish was thus shown to be inappropriate.
Also, it was demonstrated:
- that monitoring and direct intervention at nests (including
fostering) is practicable
- that long distance transfer of (weakened) nestlings is feasible
- that hand-raising is feasible (one of three seriously underweight
nestlings rescued from nests on Codfish Is. was successfully hand-raised
from about five weeks of age by Auckland Zoo staff- the first kakapo
to be reared in captivity)
- That it is possible to maintain (partially hand-raised) kakapo in
- A non-supplementary-fed female on Little Barrier Island nested and
incubated an infertile clutch. This is the only breeding attempt known
by a non-managed female on Little Barrier since kakapo were placed on
the island in 1982.
- As a consequence of the disasterous kakapo breeding season on
Codfish Island in 1992, which was clearly compounded by the policy there
to neither monitor/support breeding females nor protect nests, the pilot
supplementary-feeding programme was extended in late 1992/93 to, so far
as practicable, include all females on Codfish Island. (This latter
policy has applied to Little Barrier since 1989 (4-5 females) and on
Maud since (2) females were placed there in 1991.) Thus, nationally
there are now 13 females (80% of those known to exist) within the
management programme and high priority has been given to locating and
bringing the remaining females into the programme.
Senior Technical Officer
Kakapo Management Group
Department of Conservation
PO Box 10 420