Conservation Biology

Thursday, March 22, 2007


The most remarkable parrot in the world is the owl parrot, its common name is the kakapo (meaning night parrot) and Strigops habroptilus scientifically. The kakapo is remarkable because it is one of the rarest and strangest birds in the entirety of the world [1]. The kakapo is the only nocturnal parrot and only flightless parrot with a lek (clump of male territories that females visit only for mating purposes) breeding system in the world [2]. Kakapo is also the heaviest (weighing up to 4kg) parrots and longest lived parrots; they lived for sixty years [1]. Strigops habroptilus is found only in New Zealand [1].

Kakapa belongs to kingdom Anamalia and phylum Chordata. The kakapo is a member of class Aves, family Psittacidae and order Psittaciformes. The Kakapo has a moss-green feathers barred with black. The kakapo feed on indigenous plants, pollens, seed and fruits [1].

The kakapos were found in the entirety of New Zealand before the arrival of Polynesians (Maori) settlers in Aotearoa 1,000 years ago [2]. Strigops habroptilus were threatened by predators such as humans, rats, stoats and dogs. Strigops habroptilus were hunted for food, feathers and skin by Maori settlers. It was simple for the Maori and their dogs to prey Strigops habroptilus because they are flightless, give off strong aroma and a tendency of freezing when threatened [3]. The Maori brought the rat accidentally to New Zealand and these rats predated kakapo eggs and chicks. Mustelids such as weasels, stoats and ferrets were released around 1880 to decrease the rabbit population _ unfortunately they also preyed on the kakapo [3]. The Polynesians cleared area for grazing, farming and to expose kakapo in their habitat. The vegetation was cleared and resulted to decrease of habitat for kakapo. Kakapo were also extinct in various site of the islands, they remained at the North Island and woody part of South island. [2].

All the above mentioned activities influenced the New Zealand government to protect the kakapos in the reserve. Some kakapos were captured and placed in zoos. [2]. Kakapos were relocated before they went extinct because conservationists were aware that the numbers of kakapos were declining. Most of the kakapo that were captured died within few months. The government of New Zealand appointed Richards Henry as a caretaker of the birds in 1891. The Kakapos were relocated to Resolution Island Reserve by Henry because there were no predators on the island [2]. About 350-400 were relocated in less than six years [3]. Unfortunately, Resolution Island was accidentally colonised by stoats and the kakapos were preyed [2]. The three remaining kakapos were relocated to Nature Reserve of Little Barrier Island in 1903 and they disappeared because of the presence of Felis cattus. However, Strigops habroptilus were found and relocated to Kapiti Nature reserve Island in 1912 [3].

The kakapos were extinct in North Island and they declined in South Island during 1920s [3]. The regular expedition began in 1950s to locate the kakapo and they were recorded in Fiordland. In 1961, six kakapos were captured, five were relocated to aviaries of St Bruce Native Birds nature Reserve and one was released [3]. Four of these birds died within a months and one survived for approximately four years. In 1967, only one bird was captured, and it died in 1968 [2].

The number of individuals Strigops habroptilus decreased tremendously. As a result, the remaining six kakapos were captured by New Zealand Wildlife Services (a government agency charged with caring for New Zealand’s wildlife) in 1961. Kakapo were found in the Tutuko Valley and Sinbad Gully and transferred them to Mount Bruce National Wildlife ­­- unfortunately, these birds did not survive [4]. During regular expedition of 1968 mere kakapo were found [2]. Strigops habroptilus was listed as a foreign endangered species on Endangered Species Act of the United States in 1970 [5]. Since 1974-1976 only 14 males kakapo were exposed by scientists led by Don Merton. The capturing of male indicated that all the female were died [4].

In 1977, about 100-200 kakapo (include males and females) were found in Stewart Island during expeditions [2]. Some kakapos were relocated from Stewarts Island for example four to Maud Island, 30 to Codfish Island and 18 to Little Barrier Island to be free from predators [3] [6]. The kakapos remained on Stewarts Island were preyed by Felis cattus with a predation of 56% [2]. Studies suggested that the feral cat (Felis cattus) consumed the kakapo because they were found with their feathers in 1977 [3]. Felis cattus were blamed for killing and consuming various kakapos including thirteen adults kakapo [6]

The recovery program plan for kakapo was developed in 1989 with an aim of protecting the remaining birds to extinct [2]. The kakapo number declined up to 51 in 1995 [7]. Consequently, the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation substituted Wildlife Service to save the kakapo from extinction [8]. The remaining kakapos were then transferred to Codfish and Maud Island where their predators were absent. In 2000, there were about sixty four kakapos [7]. Strigops habroptilus was listed to be critically endangered in 2000 by International Threatened and Endangered listing of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) [4].

In 2002, there were 84 individual Strigops habroptilus [4]. Since November 2005, Strigops habroptilus have been kept on Codfish, Maud, Anchor and Chalky Islands because their predators are absent. In May 2006, kakapa were thought to extinct everywhere except those in breeding program on island reserve [9].There are only 86 kakapos that are living and they have been given individual names for example females (Alice, Bella) and males (Merty, Luke) [2] [8] [9].

Kakapos were endangered for the whole century and today are critically endangered. The recovery programs for kakapo is protecting them from extinction seem to be successful. However, the recovery is slowly.


1. Stevens D.2005. From Single Organisms to Global Environments. [Internet]. [Cited 2007 Mar 05] Available from:

2. Wikipedia contributors. Kakapo. [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Mar 13, 12:08 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 28].
Available from:

3. Kakapo Management Group. Kakapo Recovery Plan 1996-2005 [Internet ]. [Cited 2007 Mar 05] Available from:

4. New Zealand Ecology. [Internet]. [Cited 2007 Mar 05] Available from:

5. Clark J.R. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 5-Year Review of Foreign Listed Psittacine Species. Federal Register [Internet]. 2000 [cited 2007 Mar 12] 65 (185). Available from:

6. Powlesland R.G, Roberts A, Lloyd B.G & Merton D.V. Number, fate, and distribution of kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) found on Stewart Island, New Zealand, 1979-92. New Zealand Journal of Zoology. [Internet] 1994 [cited 2007 Mar 13]22: 239-248. Available from:

7.Relph D. 2000. The kakapo under pressure. [Internet ]. [Cited 2007 Mar 05] Available from:

8. Lioyd P. 2002/3. Parrots in Danger [Internet]. [Cited 2007 March 05]: Available from:

9. BBC.2006. Kakapo-the world’s most remarkable parrot. [Internet]. [Cited 2007 March 05]: Available from:

Masiya Kedibone
NISL- Ecological Informatics

P.O. Box 395


  • What's with the "Kakapo" Wiki-image link in the second paragraph? Did you mean to do that? And if so, why? Not bad otherwise, though...

    By Blogger NcK, at March 22, 2007 11:54 AM  

  • Interesting topic,
    I want to add some steps which need to be followed before you practice the method of translocation as you mentioned in your article. You indicated that, the method of translocation is working on New Zealand, yes it is true. The method of translocation is used to protect the kakapo birds in New Zealand.

    Translocation refers to the movement of living organisms from one area to another where the environmental conditions are similar. Before and after you release the species, assessments need to be done. Method of translocation needs one to investigate the relationship between the home environment and the new environment in which you want to relocate the species. Quarantines need to be applied to prevent the spread of diseases. You need to check whether the species have some diseases or not.

    Kedibone, this is similar to those that we did in an expert system assignment in invasion biology course. As we check whether the species can survive in the environmental condition of fynbos before we introduce species.

    Translocation method was successful in New Zealand more especially in kakapo birds. The kakapo birds were placed in the place where there is no competition for habitat and nutrients and where there are no predators.

    In New Zealand, kakapo birds were translocated into four coastal Islands, that is Mana Islands, Maud, Godfish and in little barrier. The kakapo birds were released during winter and early spring in New Zealand; this was done to avoid the moving of parrots during breeding.

    The time in which the kakapo birds were translocated from one place to another must not exceed 12 hours; this will help to avoid the kakapo to be stressed by walking for a long distance. After relocation, the kakapo was given an extra food in order to adjust to the new environment. Today most scientists and people believe that, translocation is the best method as there is an increasing number of kakapo in New Zealand.

    By Blogger linette, at March 23, 2007 4:00 PM  

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