A Kakapo Adventure

Patricia Latas
January 17, 2014 share
Artists for Conservation

kakapo-natural

In early February 2011, I was between bird patients on a busy and slight irritating day at Arizona Bird Clinic. I needed to check email for some pending lab work on a little patient. I saw a message from the Kakapo Recovery Team. Naturally I thought they were asking for money...

But , no! They wanted me as a nest-minder volunteer--in 2 weeks! Of course the answer was no. I had patients, staff, boss, family, my bird companions, no money, no time, to think about. I replied that no, I could not be there in 2 weeks. But 3 weeks YES! I had applied for a volunteer position many years prior, and essentially had forgotten.

A nest-minder volunteer basically hikes up the hill, totes a big battery and equipment, and camps out every night. The job is to observe a female on the nest, log in behavior and monitor for any dangerous disturbances. The local nesting shearwaters can enter the nest, kill chicks and harass the female kakapo. Rodents and other pests have been eradicated, but the volunteer needs to observe just in case. The occasional male kakapo might enter a nest out of curiosity or more malevolent intent. An infra red camera, doorbell alet and remote tv monitor allow the volunteer to stay in the tent and not disturb the female.

ents                  home-tent

  halfway-up               flossies-nest2

foggy-glasses                      nesting-schedule

egg-hatching          nest-equipment

After a chick arrives, the volunteer is required to measure and observe the chick when the mother is out feeding.

check-the-crop              chick-at-night

It is arduous but highly rewarding. The first sight of a kakapo was Flossie as she was exiting the nest. I was with a ranger, and we were adjusting some equipment. Opening the hatch to the nest cavity, I glimpsed her rear-end leaving the entry hole. I was breathless and wept with joy and surprise--I had seen my personal, mythical unicorn for real! This ghostly bird whose progress I had followed with dismay for literally decades was really there. It was an experience I will never forget, as close to a religious experience as I will ever have. Seeing Flossie's tail for the first time pierced my heart; from that moment I became dedicated to these birds.

The second bird I saw was on a trail at night, Pura, a tiny female who was Flossie's daughter and who was hanging out in Flossie's territory. I could not believe it. A kakapo in the wild. And not that worried about a blundering human in the forest.

Every glimpse of a kakapo after that was magical, precious treasure. I learned their calls, their smell, their personalities.

I also had the great honor of being the "attending physician" to several birds, the most memorable the dignified, honorable Mr. Barnard.

darryl-and-barnard4                      barnard-wing2
There are only 124 Kakapo left in the world. There are none in captivity. Kakapo Recovery efforts have brought the species back from “extinct” in the 1980’s to the present count of 124 birds. This is a huge success...BUT! In present day economics, funding for immeasurably important projects such as the recovery of unique and irreplaceable species such as the kakapo are disappearing. Recently major corporate funding was pulled from this project, and Kakapo Recovery relies more than ever on private donations and support.
This is one of the very few species of endangered birds that has a chance of thriving, if protected and nurtured in this early effort. They do not fly. They do not require vast territories of unbroken rainforest. Their needs are modest and entirely possible to achieve. Loss of money at this crucial juncture will mean the end of a parrot that has no equivalent ANYWHERE. I can and have raised money personally by sale of kakapo artwork. With support from Artists for Conservation, I feel certain that I can contribute materially to the salvation of such a precious treasure.
Then, there are the less material reasons that this trip would be special to me, on a very personal level. I was honored by being selected as a kakapo nest-minder volunteer for the NZ Department of Conservation in 2011. I had the privilege to watch Flossie hatch and rear a tiny chick. I had the great blessing to meet several kakapo. I am not ashamed to say that this was a religious experience on a very basic and honest level. Upon returning to the USA, I found out a few short months later that I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. In the following months and year, through great pain, discomfort, sickness, treatments and anxiety, I would cast my mind back to the magical days on Whenua Hou, the antics of the kakapo I met, the great dignity of the older birds and the lovely chubbiness of the chicks.
I promised myself, that if I made it through treatment and was given an extension to my life, that I would not waste what time I might be granted. I vowed to give back to the Kakapo tribe for quite literally saving my life and enriching my spirit.
In recent months, Barnard was found dead. He was a very old and dignified bird that I had the privilege to meet. I decided at that point that I would apply to the Flag Expeditions. My hope is to return what I have been given. LIFE and not extinction.

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