Kākāpō Recovery Programme
Meridian and the kākāpō.
How we’re helping renew a species.
One of the more colourful creatures in New Zealand forests, the kākāpō is an endangered national treasure, with current population sitting at only 210 birds. At Meridian, we have teamed up with the Department of Conservation to support the Kākāpō Recovery Programme, which aims to get kākāpō off the endangered list and back to their former natural range.
And it’s not just a partnership between us and DOC. We work closely with Ngāi Tahu. “Kākāpō are treasured by Ngāi Tahu as a taonga species, they are part of our tribal identity and it’s wonderful to see that Meridian values them too,” says Tāne Davis, the Ngāi Tahu appointee to the Kākāpō Recovery Group.
Meridian’s involvement helps fund research and initiatives relating to genetics, nutrition, disease management and finding new sites. It also helps raise awareness of the plight of kākāpō.
Smart Eggs. The future of breeding.
One of the innovations we’re helping fund is the Smart Egg, a 3D-printed egg that helps with the incubation process. (But these eggs are only useful after breeding kicks off, which is why we’re also providing them with saxy saxophone music to get them in the mood.)
Often once a kākāpō lays an egg, the egg is removed from its nest and hatched in an incubator, and a dummy egg is placed in the nest in its place.
That’s where Smart Eggs come in. Smart Eggs mimic the sound and motion of a real egg, ensuring both the mother and nest are prepared for the arrival of the chick after it’s hatched and is returned to the nest.
Smart Eggs also keep track of other useful data, like the temperature and humidity of the nest. All this results in a higher hatching rate than the natural approach.
Developed in collaboration with the International Centre of Birds of Prey, if Smart Eggs are a success with the Kākāpō Recovery Programme, they could be used with many other endangered species around the globe.
In search of kākāpō: 24 hours on Whenua Hou
Our Branded Partnerships Manager, Sarah, was lucky enough to trade her desk job for a visit to the deep south in search of kākāpō. Here’s her encounter of 24 hours on Whenua Hou.
The journey begins
First stop: disinfectant. There’s no visit to Whenua Hou without a rigorous quarantine process to protect our taonga species! Every single thing I was taking to the island had to be disinfected. And when I got to Invercargill, everything was searched in quarantine just to be sure no insects or seeds had snuck into my backpack. There was nothing to be found, so then the journey really began: Invercargill to Whenua Hou via a small but mighty helicopter.
Whenua Hou is a small island off the coast of Rakiura/Stewart Island, New Zealand. It’s a predator-free sanctuary for many native New Zealand species, and holds almost half of the country’s endangered kākāpō population. From my bird’s eye view, the land looked pre-historic with dense native bush as far as I could see. I almost expected a dinosaur to stroll out of the forest at any moment. This was New Zealand as it used to be.
We nailed the beach landing (well, the pilot did) and the ‘ranger train’ began shuttling boxes after boxes of supplies to the hut. A karakia welcomed all the new arrivals, and I was lucky to meet the team: DOC rangers, a scientist, a Ngāi Tahu representative. With a cup of tea in hand, we settled into the hut for the night.
Love at first sight
When you’re woken up in the wee hours of the morning by a DOC ranger saying “come outside, quick!” you know you’re in for something special. And that I was. I opened the door to see Tōmua doing what he does best: patrolling the pathway from the hut to the long drop. I couldn’t believe my blurry eyes, looking at this beautiful giant parrot that only very few people will ever meet. Rain drizzled on our backs while we sat with our PJs still on, head torches dimmed, watching Tōmua waddle around his hood. I could’ve stayed there for hours.
We’re going on a kākāpō hunt
A few hours later, I figured out that this ranger business isn’t all cups of tea and date scones (though there was lots of that too). This team was fit. I found myself trudging through the mud in their fast footsteps. We were on the lookout for kākāpō to change their transmitters, which are like tiny backpacks that send rangers info about the birds’ location, health, mating and nesting. Five hours into our mostly uphill hike, we still hadn’t had a signal. Not long after though, the ranger’s tracking gear sounded the beeps we’d been waiting for. We quickly dropped our packs on the track and headed into the dense forest. After slipping, sliding and fighting off branches, we were on all fours – army crawling styles – hoping to spot some bright green feathers.
The signal got stronger, and soon enough a ranger clapped eyes on Kohitātea. We caught him, the rangers did a health check and transmitter change, and finally gave him his fave snack: macadamia nuts. They have expensive taste! Kohitātea gobbled them up with his eyes half closed, clearly in kākāpō heaven. Mission complete.
A dream come true
As I snuggled into my sleeping bag that night, I had to pinch myself thinking of the day, knowing how lucky I was to get up close with a kākāpō. My hat goes off to the Department of Conservation and the Kākāpō Recovery Programme. Living off grid on an island sounds dreamy, but helping keep 209 birds – and counting – alive is bloody hard work. And they’re doing it for all of us, to bring these beautiful, quirky parrots back from the brink of extinction.
At Meridian, we’re proud to support the mahi of the Kākāpō Recovery Programme. Keen to do the same? Donate now.
To celebrate Meridian becoming the national partner of the Kākāpō Recovery Programme, the newest chicks visited our Manapōuri hydro power station.
Here’s the group representing DOC, Meridian and Ngāi Tahu on the day, with the kākāpō in their custom-built viewing enclosure.
DOC Threatened Species Ambassador Nicola Toki and Manapōuri site manager John Twidle with visiting kākāpō in their custom-built viewing enclosure at Manapōuri hydro power station.
The Kākāpō Recovery Programme is a world class conservation effort that has been in place since 1990, working to bring kākāpō back from the brink of extinction from a low of just 50 birds in 1995.
Kākāpō are native to New Zealand and are listed as a critically endangered species, with around 160 known surviving birds as of June 2016.
Meridian’s partnership with DOC will help to develop kākāpō conservation techniques, particularly through research on genetics, nutrition and disease management.
After their visit to Manapōuri hydro station, the kākāpō chicks were transported by helicopter to Pukenui/Anchor Island for release into the wild.