Skraaark! I’ve just had a skype-apo chat with DOC scientist Ron Moorhouse and he’s told me a few things that are happening down on Codfish Island. It’s good news and bad news – so business as usual in kakapo land!
The good news is that so far we’ve got 18 eggs, and we’re still hoping for more – maybe another couple of nests if we’re lucky. Get booming fellas! Go get ‘em, girls!
The problem though is one that’s haunted us for many years – we find it quite hard to produce healthy eggs. Why? Well, it’s a bit delicate – but when you realise that there are so few of us and that most of us are related in one way or another, you might get the idea. I guess this is the ‘kakapo curse’ – when you get over-friendly with a relative, there’s gonna be trouble.
What this means in real terms is that around half of our eggs don’t make it to chick-time. On the nesting table you’ll see that at the moment several of the eggs are listed as either ‘infertile’ or ‘e.d.e’ – which stands for ‘embryo died early’. This is the curse, and it comes from being such a small population.
Obviously our DOC friends are doing everything they can to help. It was great news back in the 1970s when we kakapo came out of hiding and they found us on both Stewart Island and in Fiordland. There were only a few Fiordland birds, but they were vital in terms of the genetic diversity they offered – the late, lamented Richard Henry may well yet provide some much needed “new blood” through his surviving offspring, Sinbad, Gulliver and Kuia.
The next problem to overcome is that we don’t want too many more boys. We need girls to keep the numbers going up, but in the past there just weren’t enough of them. But luckily a few years ago the scientists worked out one of our kakapo secrets: if you feed up a kakapo girl, then she’s more likely to have boy chicks – because she knows that if she’s healthy, then the boy will grow up to be a lusty, booming stud muffin who will keep her line going.
But if the mum is a bit skinny, she’ll worry that a boy chick will be a runt…so she produces a girl instead! Once they worked that out a few years ago, they cut back the rations to produce more girls – and it’s worked. It goes about 50:50 now, which has got to be good news for everyone concerned!
So it’s all a bit complicated, and to be honest I’m glad I’m up here on Maud Island having a good old time with local school kids coming to see me, and the occasional ranger for me to jump on.
Chick-time is coming – maybe in the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep in touch with Ron and my friends down on Codfish and I’ll let you know what’s happening. Skraaaark!