Genetics, Cloacitis and some Sunshine


Scientist Andrew Digby, along with technical advisor Daryl Eason and program manager Deidre Vercoe recently headed out to Anchor Island for a few days to join the rangers out there.
They timed their trip perfectly and were greeted by a week of sunshine, practically unheard of in Fiordland!



Anchor Island



Sample collection

One of the jobs for the trip was to catch Jane in order to collect a blood sample. Jane’s an old kākāpō (or at least we think so). She has a bad leg, dull plumage and has never bred. But she’s a significant bird: it was her blood that was used to sequence the kākāpō genome in 2015, as part of the B10K ’10,000 Birds Project’. Now her genome is being sequenced at even higher resolution, to create a ‘platinum standard’ genome, which will be used as a reference ‘scaffold’ for the remaining genomes sequenced in the Kākāpō125+ genome project. A couple of drops of her blood were placed into a vial and stored in liquid nitrogen to keep it in good condition for the DNA work.

Jane2017 JaneBlood



The team were also collecting blood samples to test for vitamin D levels.


Blood samples stored in liquid nitrogen

We’ve found that kākāpō have unusually low levels compared to other birds, and we’re trying to understand why.


On the dirty side of field work, the whole team were also involved in ongoing work to collect faecal samples which will be analysed for further research into cloacitis – the nasty ‘crusty bum’ disease that’s currently impacting the Whenua Hou kākāpō. It’s yet to show up on Anchor, but we’re keeping a close eye on the birds there to make sure we don’t miss it if it does appear.




Sorting faecal samples


New sites

The team also spent some time in various parts of Dusky Sound looking at potential new sites for kākāpō. As the population continues to increase and Whenua Hou and Anchor are nearing capacity, we will need to find new places for kākāpō to live. Presence of introduced predators, vegetation, size and ease of access are all things we need to consider in these decisions. Larger areas will hold more birds, and provide better habitat generally, but are also much harder to remove pests from. It’s an exciting new phase for the program as we consider where next might be the kākāpō’s new home.



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