Kakapo Joy

No wonder the kakapo is the most endangered parrot in the world!

The one here trying to copulate with a man’s head is named Sirocco. His species of large, flightless, ground-dwelling, nocturnal parrots endemic to New Zealand is critically endangered because of humans.

After New Zealand broke off from the supercontinent  Gondwana, around 82 million years ago, all the major major predators on it became extinct. Among other creatures that survived was a population of parrots, which eventually evolved into several species, including the kakapo.

There were several species of hawk and an owl that occasionally preyed on the kakapo. but nothing on the ground. Even most of the avian predators are extinct now. The giant Haast’s eagle died out when humans hunted its main prey, the giant moa, to extinction. The moa was another flightless bird looking similar to an overgrown ostrich which could stand up to twelve feet tall, taller than an elephant.

The kakapo was of high value to the Maori, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages beginning about 1250 a.d., bringing with them the rats and other vermin that accompany humans everywhere. They hunted the birds for meat and for their beautiful feathers and sometimes kept them as pets.

Sirocco
Sirocco the Kakapo

Then European settlers came in the seventeenth century, bringing dogs, cats, foxes, ferrets and other beasts that go feral and devour the native fauna and flora. The flightless, ground-nesting birds didn’t have a chance! The imported beasts ate their eggs and chicks and some of them even killed and ate the adult birds.

The Europeans also hunted them for meat and kept
them as pets. One settler wrote that his kakapo’s behavior toward him and his friends was “more like that of a dog than a bird.”

New Zealand has no native non-marine mammals except bats, for the obvious reason that bats flew there and other mammals couldn’t. Why did they? I dunno. Maybe they got lost. Maybe a storm blew them off course from wherever they intended to fly to. Who knows?

Birds often lose the power of flight and grow larger on islands with no predators to escape from, and this is what happened to the kakapo. It’s the largest parrot on earth and accumulates masses of body fat, but it didn’t need to fly until humans came with their vermin. Since there were no predators, it also nested on the ground. Big mistake!

After the Polynesian and European colonizations, the kakapo was almost wiped out. Now, all surviving kakapos are kept on three predator-free islands, where they are closely monitored. Two large islands have been the subject of large-scale ecological restoration to create self-sustaining ecosystems with suitable habitats for the kakapo. As of April 2018, there were 149 known adult kakapos.

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