DATE: 19 February, 2016
First chick of bumper kākāpō breeding season hatches
The first kākāpō chick has hatched for 2016, on Anchor Island, in Fiordland.
It’s the first time during the 26-year recovery programme that a chick has hatched there and many more are expected during the coming weeks, both on Anchor and on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, near Stewart Island.
The chick was discovered by kākāpō rangers when they viewed its mother Tiwhiri’s nest camera, on Thursday morning. Tiwhiri, aged 7, is a first-time mum and appeared to be doing well.
Department of Conservation operations manager kākāpō/takahē Deidre Vercoe said it was a dream start to a record breeding season and the busy months that lay ahead.
“To date, 37 females across the two southern islands have mated and we expect most of them will nest, although egg fertility may be an issue. But with a pro-active artificial insemination programme, we’re hoping to increase the rates of fertility and therefore the number of viable eggs.”
Due to the scale of the breeding, the team is trialling a new management approach with a reduced level of nest monitoring. Nest management is prioritised according to how genetically valuable the eggs or chicks are.
“At the moment all eyes are on Kuia’s two genetically precious eggs, with the first due to hatch any time now” she said.
Kuia, 18, is one of three siblings that have the unique genes of their father, Richard Henry, the last remaining Fiordland kākāpō who died in 2010.
“Her offspring will help maintain genetic diversity in the population.”
However, the arrival of Tiwhiri’s chick comes as the team mourns the loss of one of the original male kākāpō, Smoko, who died, possibly as a result of a fight with another male, on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou on Tuesday. He was first discovered on Stewart Island 25 years ago, so his age was unknown. He fathered two chicks in 2009 and had mated with Pura, 10 days before his death. His body had been sent to Auckland Zoo where vets would investigate the cause.
Ms Vercoe said of the 125 remaining kākāpō, there were 31 unknown age birds, which had been discovered on Stewart Island, the majority during the late 1980s. “Potentially, quite a few of these kākāpō could be quite old – 60 years-plus even, so deaths within that group are to be expected.
“It’s a reminder of why we need to do everything we can, such as using artificial insemination, to increase the chance that these older birds produce offspring. We’re thrilled that the record level of breeding this season will enable us to continue our work to bring this very unique New Zealand species back from the brink of extinction.”