In the early days, humans found kākāpō through the use of trained tracking dogs, which located the birds through their distinctive smell.
A snark is an automated radio tracking system which can be placed at strategic locations to collect data on kākāpō. The main use of the snark in the programme is at the supplementary feeding stations. The innovation centres around a portable black box, which contains a radio receiver, data logger and special computer software package. Once placed near the feed station, the Snark records the movements of any birds within, say, a 10 metre radius and stores this on its memory.
Staff can then come along with a blue-tooth hand-held computer, download information from the Snark and find out which birds have been feeding from the hopper at the feed station.
The Snark can also be linked to a set of electronic scales, which will tell staff how much the birds weigh. If need be, rangers can adjust food rations to ensure all kakapo are in good breeding condition to optimise chick production.
But wait, it gets even smarter! The snark can control which birds are allowed to feed at the hopper!
A normal hopper is simply a plastic mould with a lid that any kākāpō can open to access food. A ‘smart hopper’ is plugged into the snark and has a mechanical arm that locks the lid shut. Rangers programme the snark with information from the transmitters of each bird that is allowed to feed at that station. When the snark detects the radio signal of the ‘right’ bird, it will unlock the mechanical arm and the bird can feed.
This technology has allowed us to more closely manage the supplementary feeding programme to ensure birds are just the right weight for successful breeding. No more hopper raiding by greedy kākāpō!