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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 00:55 GMT
Parrot breeds its way to record
Kakapo   Don Merton/DoC
The world's rarest and oddest parrot is doing its best (Image: Don Merton/DoC)
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By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

One of the strangest birds in the world, the kakapo, is breeding its way back from the brink of extinction.

This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in threatened bird conservation in years

Dr Michael Rands, BirdLife International
The kakapo is the world's rarest parrot, its heaviest, and the only nocturnal and flightless parrot. Its numbers had fallen to 62 individuals, all in its native New Zealand.

But in the last two weeks a breeding frenzy has seen seven kakapo chicks hatching.

All hatched on Whenua Hou, a small island off the coast of New Zealand's South Island.

The country's Department of Conservation (DoC) announced on 18 February that 18 females were incubating 52 eggs on Whenua Hou, and the first chick hatched two days later.

The DoC says more than half the eggs are fertile. It believes these chicks stand the best chance so far of reaching breeding age themselves.

Prospects bright

The director of BirdLife International, the global conservation alliance, is Dr Michael Rands.

He said: "This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in threatened bird conservation in years. The successful hatching of these chicks signals that 2002 could become the best kakapo season ever."

The birds have been helped by the Kakapo Recovery Programme, which has worked for 10 years to help them to survive.

One of the four groups involved in the programme is BirdLife's New Zealand arm, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.

The birds, which normally breed slowly, were threatened chiefly by predatory mammals introduced to New Zealand, including rats and cats.

Fruit in season

Rats were eradicated on Whenua Hou in 1999, making the island one of the safest environments for the birds.

The kakapos are also thriving this year because the rimu trees on the island are bearing abundant fruit.

The rimu is an important food source for young kakapos, but it has had only three good seasons in the last decade.

Even so, the DoC is taking no chances. Each kakapo is fitted with a radio transmitter, and their nests are monitored by infra-red cameras throughout the breeding season.

While the females forage, warming pads are placed over the eggs and nestlings. And any chicks which are neglected or become ill will be removed from the nests and hand-reared by DoC staff.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
British cash helps smallest bird
12 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil hunts for unique lost bird
06 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Quarter of parrot species on brink
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