Last week senior ranger Jenny spent time working alongside our veterinary partners at the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM) based at Auckland Zoo. Cloacitis is a serious disease affecting some of the kākāpō on Whenua Hou, and in partnership with the NZCCM and other researchers we are trying to learn more about how to treat the disease and what is causing it.
Wharetutu, an 8yr old female, has been showing symptoms of cloacitis (inflammation and lesions on the cloaca) for several months. Attempts to treat her whilst she remained living in the wild were unsuccessful and so when veterinarian James Chatterton joined the team on Whenua Hou in April he decided it was time for her to go to NZCCM for some further treatment. Air New Zealand provides transport for our birds across the country so Wharetutu was able to join James in the cabin for the flight to Auckland.
At NZCCM kākāpō have their own isolation ward which has strict quarantine procedures in order to prevent disease being spread between kākāpō and the other birds in the veterinary centre and zoo. On entering the quarantine area staff change into overalls and designated gumboots and wear gloves. If staff work with any other parrots that day they must shower, wash their hair and change into clean clothes before they are allowed to have contact with kākāpō again.
The horticulture team at the zoo provided some great branches to enable a climbing frame to be built in Wharetutu’s enclosure with plenty of hiding places. They also collect and deliver fresh browse every second day ensuring she has a smorgasbord of dinner options. She particularly enjoyed some northern species which she wouldn’t have encountered before; pōhutukawa, rewarewa, nīkau and kauri, as well as pine. In addition, she is offered the standard kākāpō pellets (which are fed as supplementary food during breeding seasons) and a range of nuts, seeds, fruit and veg. Her favourites are kumura, corn cobs, apple, pear, grapes and macadamia nuts. Each day her left over food is weighed to see how much she is eating and her enclosure investigated to see which browse she is most enjoying and how much she appears to be eating.
Kākāpō do not tend to like being in captivity and are reluctant to eat so it is important that the staff spend time making her enclosure interesting to encourage her to explore and providing a range of food presented in different ways. Despite this and due to weight loss caused by the cloacitis Wharetutu still needed to be fed a high protein ‘recovery diet’ via a crop-tube twice a day. This also enables her to be given her medication: antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and pain relief, and weighed. It is important for kākāpō rangers to learn how to crop tube adult birds (quite different to feeding a hungry and happy wee hand-reared chick!) and get practice with this skill as they are normally the first responders to sick or injured birds on the islands.
At time of writing Wharetutu has responded well to treatment and is in the process of coming off the medication and recovery diet as she continues to gain weight and eat more food herself. All going well we expect to return her home to Whenua Hou within a couple of weeks.
Whilst in Auckland Jenny also took the opportunity to visit Rod Miller, a pilot at Rodney Aero Club in Warkworth. Rod has been involved with the Kākāpō Recovery Programme for several years now as our ‘sky-ranger’ pilot. Sky-ranger is a programme whereby a small plane equipped with radio-telemetry receiver aerials flies a grid over an area, in this case Hauturu-O-Toi/Little Barrier Island, whilst a data logger searches for and records signals from the birds’ transmitters. This information is then sent to Jenny in the Invercargill office and interpreted to check information such as whether all the birds are alive, where they are living and if their transmitter has logged any interesting activity such as a mating or incubation event. On a large and rugged island such as Hauturu this technology saves many ranger hours on the ground collecting this data manually.