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To celebrate his ‘hatch-day’ today’s photo of the week is everyone’s favourite spokesbird, Sirocco the kākāpō.

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To celebrate the 99th anniversary of America’s National Parks, US Ambassador Mark Gilbert met with our own ambassador bird, Sirocco the kākāpō.

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He’s better looking than Bieber, more charismatic than Clooney and he has some pretty hardcore admirers.

Sirocco at Zealandia. Photo copyright of Janice McKenna.

One handsome bird

Sirocco the kākāpō is our social media superstar and New Zealand’s Official Spokesbird for Conservation. Today he has reached an amazing milestone in his quest for world domination by reaching a massive 100,000 devoted fans on his Facebook page.

This parrot is not just a national treasure, but also an international rock-star with fans from as far away as Serbia and Brazil. Over 6000 of his fans speak Arabic, 7000 speak Portuguese and 140 fans are even fluent in Pirate – arrrrrr me hearties!

Sirocco the rock-star kakapo book.

The rock-star

Through both Facebook and Twitter, Sirocco connects his fans (now over 100,000), their friends (millions of them), and the wider social media community (billions of them) to conservation messages and stories right here in New Zealand.

Sirocco's Facebook page.

100,000 likes

Sirocco’s high-flying career was launched in 2009 off the back of the BBC’s ‘Last Chance to See’ programme, when Sirocco attempted to mate with zoologist Mark Carwardine’s head. Footage of this event has now generated more than 6 million hits on YouTube.

Sirocco on Mark Carwardine's head with Stephen Fry.

Mark and Stephen

In January 2010 Sirocco was officially recognised as a conservation ambassador by the Prime Minister John Key, who named him the “Official Spokesbird for Conservation”. Mr Key said Sirocco would bring attention to the plight of our endangered species.

Sirocco is currently touring the country and will be on show from 19 September – 5 October at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin.

You can become one of Sirocco’s loyal followers over on Facebook and Twitter.

By Ashwika Kapur, Filmmaker

Ashwika Kapur holding a video camera.

Ashwika Kapur

I came to New Zealand in early 2013 to chase my childhood dream of obtaining a degree in Natural History Filmmaking so I could entertain and educate audiences through timeless wildlife stories from around the world.

As part of my degree I had to make a film so I began scouting ideas, and among the weird and wonderful creatures of this far away land, I came across Sirocco the kākāpō’s story. It was just one of those things; I simply knew this was the documentary I had to make!

Sirocco looking through a hole in a wooden box.

Peek-a-boo

Sirocco is irresistibly endearing, cheekier than a monkey and remarkably bizarre in his mannerisms. Sirocco is an extraordinary character and his story is equally extraordinary; a true-blue rag to riches tale. My film sets out to tell that story; the one-of-a-kind tale of a bird catapulted to super stardom by a chain of rather strange events.

Sirocco's claws around a tree branch.

Check out those rockstar claws

Sirocco’s story is one of hope, joy and celebration. It optimistically premises the idea that there can be no better ambassadors for conservation than animals themselves.

My film about Sirocco has recently been nominated for a Panda Award, dubbed the ‘Green Oscars’, at the Wildscreen Film Festival.

Sirocco amongst the trees.

Curious Sirocco

The film will be available online to view for free after the Wildscreen Film Festival in October, until then you will have to enjoy watching this short trailer:

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Jeff Hall, Biodiversity Ranger on Mana Island.

At work

Sirocco on Jeff's head.

Sirocco looking pretty happy with himself.

Some things I do in my job include… a long and varied list of all the jobs, big and small, involved in managing an island sanctuary.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… enabling the recovery of some of our endangered taonga (treasures) and showcasing what can be achieved when we work together. I also inspire mainlanders to enhance and protect what we’ve got.

The best bit about my job is… every day is different and filled with new challenges, and as a bonus my family are closely involved in my working environment. When I dreamed of one day growing up and becoming a “Park Ranger” this was it, doing it all – from mowing lawns, to talking to visitors to wrestling with endangered animals.

The strangest, scariest but ultimately funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… my first night out catching a kakapo as part of a small but specialised crack team of professionals on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Our target was a girl called Fuchsia, who had outsmarted many who had gone before by choosing to roost too deep for any arm to reach.

So on dusk we assembled to position ourselves around her burrow entrance in the hope of grabbing her for a transmitter change before she disappeared into the night.

I was on point, well actually I was perched on the limb of an old rata above the burrow out over a fairly steep slope, the bottom of which disappeared in the failing light.

Just on dark I picked up a movement outside the entrance, I noted there was no movement from anyone in the team, this was my moment! Quick as a wink and in gazelle like fashion…. Nay, my legs had gone to sleep, so I promptly fell from my perch and proceeded to roll down the steep slope, all the while wondering if I had just flattened poor Fuchsia, or if it would be her or I to the bottom of the hill first.

While regaining my bearings a flash of green in Phil Marsh’s torch light tore by (so I had indeed beaten her to the bottom, and she was alive!). Phil graciously paused from the chase to check on my welfare (more like yelled “You all right Jeff?”) as he galloped past and secured the ‘target’. I’d have been right up there with him, if only my legs had woken.

That was the first of many eventful captures of kakapo and other adventures on Whenua Hou, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound.

Jeff in Anchor Island harbour holding a crayfish.

One of Tangaroa’s gifts from the bountiful Anchor Island harbour

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… hard to single out as the list extends to most of my like-minded colleagues past and present around the country. But a shout out must go to someone who’s got commitment, a strong work ethic and is just a damn good sort to work with. It also helps that she gave me the opportunity to go catch kiwi on the Milford track, opening the door to species work thereafter. She’s been known to also throw a damn good party. So cheers Hannah Edmonds, I know you’ll keep doing what you do best.

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… well not wanting to upset those who know me…it’s really hard to go past just about anything from the 1980s/early 90s Bon Jovi back catalogue. From ‘Living on a prayer’, ‘Wanted dead or alive’ to ‘Always’. I’ve been known to belt out one or two of these classics in karaoke from time to time.

My stomping ground is… Eastbourne, Wellington was where I spent my early years. Which is lucky as I spent what you could call my formative years on the North Shore, and Harbour are playing some atrocious rugby at the moment – so go the Lions!

My best ever holiday was… my wife would want me to say that it was the time we sprung a surprise wedding while holidaying in Rarotonga with the rest of my whanau. But as I have just explained to her as she reads this over my shoulder that the best ever day of my life is not the same as my best ever holiday.

My best ever holiday was back when I had (relatively speaking) nothing to be responsible for or about, spending a few weeks in eastern Europe with two good mates in their Bedford campervan “Edna”. Every evening we had to find a reasonable slope (not too steep that we’d fall out of bed) to park the old girl on to give her a running start in the morning. Once we went to sleep in an empty lot on the edge of a small town in Lithuania and woke to find ourselves trapped in the middle of a huge farmers’ market for most of the day. The Oktoberfest in Munich: I recall my thought at the time being “Wow, this is like Disneyland with beer!”, which in hindsight may well have been the beer talking! We convinced plenty of people in Poland we were an eighties revival cover band called ‘Cougar’. And just getting to be young larrikins in a foreign land – without causing any lasting offence to those around us of course.

Fun times that we still reminisce over until tears of laughter pour down our faces.

Assortment of seafood and steak.

Surf and Turf Anchor Island style – the back steaks are from the last deer eradicated in 2008

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… that alpine clown the kea, ridge skipping my way across the mighty Southern Alps and nimbly extracting double chocolate muffins from a hapless ski lift operator’s pack while he was busy putting bums on T-Bars.

Before working at DOC I… (amongst other things) was putting bums on T-Bars at Porter Heights ski field and missing my double chocolate muffin for smoko.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” – a quote from the song ‘Power and the Passion’ by Midnight Oil.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… “Effort brings reward”. Cheers Dad. Or then again, when I was contemplating a career in boxing, Dad chipped in with “Son, you’ve got to learn to take a punch before you give a punch.” Hmm…maybe I’ll become a Park Ranger after all!

In work and life I am motivated by… lately it has been seeing other peoples’ reactions to seeing the things I have grown accustomed to seeing on a daily basis on Mana Island, like their first takahe or gecko.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… get amongst it! Seeing is believing! If everyone just chips in we can ensure this land of ours remains the best living space on Earth.

Jeff and his children on Mana Island.

Mana Island – home for now

Question of the week…

If anything were possible, what animal would you most like to have as a member of your family is… the adult and purist in me says none, but my inner child says “Dad, can I get a Sirocco for Christmas?”

Sirocco the kākāpō, our social media superstar and New Zealand’s Official Spokesbird for Conservation, was introduced to a new Japanese audience last month and gained thousands of devoted new fans as a result. Tourism New Zealand tells the story:

Sirocco kākāpō. Photo copyright: Janice McKenna.

Sirocco kākāpō. Photo copyright: Janice McKenna

Sirocco the kākāpō has been charming a new international audience after a popular Japanese television show, with an audience in excess of 10 million, mentioned him during a feature on New Zealand in August.

When one of the presenters on the Sekai no Hatemade Itte Q! television show started talking about a kākāpō in New Zealand who had his own Twitter account, but could not recall the account name, the Tourism New Zealand team in Japan grabbed the opportunity to help and sent out a tweet introducing @Spokesbird:

“Looks like Sirocco is hooked on Twitter and Facebook! He said he wants a smart phone too, but the screen doesn’t work with his claws. There are only 124 kakapo alive today, and for Sirocco, every connection is an important one.”

Within a few hours this tweet had generated over 500 retweets and gained Sirocco the kākāpō over 2,000 new followers, all from Japan. Subsequent tweets about New Zealand’s native fauna and flora, as well as appeals to teach Sirocco Japanese, also proved popular with fans young and old.

One of the most popular tweets was when Sirocco tweeted:

日本まで飛んで皆さんに会いに行きたいけど、実は僕、世界で唯一飛べないオウムなんだよ(´・ ω・`)ショボーン。みんながNZまで会いに来てくれたら嬉しいな! 9/6~10/6 南島ダニーデンのオロコヌイ・エコサンクチュアリで僕と会えるよ。

Which translated is:

“I’d love to fly over and visit you all in Japan, but I can’t because I’m the world’s only flightless parrot [sad face]. I’d love it if you came to see me though. I’ll be at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin from Sept 9 till Oct 6.”

The New Zealand parrot shot to fame in 2009 off the back of the BBC’s ‘Last Chance to See’ programme, when Sirocco attempted to mate with zoologist Mark Carwardine’s head. Footage of this event generated more than half a million hits on YouTube and had social network sites buzzing.

In January 2010 Sirocco was officially recognised as a conservation ambassador by the Prime Minister John Key, who named the parrot the “Official Spokesbird for Conservation”. Mr Key commented on Sirocco’s “worldwide fan base” who “hang on every squawk that comes out of his beak” and said Sirocco would focus attention on the plight of endangered species.

Sirocco will be on show from 6 Sept – 6 Oct at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin and bookings from Japan are already coming in, with one fan coming back to see Sirocco after visiting him two years ago.

Both the original BBC programme ‘Last Chance to See’ and the Japanese visit from ‘Sekai no Hatemade Itte Q!’ were supported by Tourism New Zealand’s international media programme, reinforcing that key messages from these visits have impact beyond just their in market on air screenings.


Connect with Sirocco on Facebook and Twitter. He’s looking forward to meeting you.

Learn more about Sirocco: www.doc.govt.nz/sirocco.

There are only 124 kākāpō left in the world and I have been waiting to see one up close and personal ever since I started working at DOC. I have seen the fans going crazy for kākāpō online, even voting them as the ‘World’s Favourite Species’ in a recent poll. They are a native New Zealand bird that I just had to meet.

I was glad to find out that Sirocco the kākāpō would be visiting Zealandia sanctuary in July. Sirocco has been touring New Zealand for a few years now and this was my chance to get close to one of the few remaining kākāpō left.

To say I was ‘excited’ is probably an understatement. When Zealandia announced the visit I got on their website immediately and booked my ticket for opening night. The anticipation only grew throughout June as Sirocco’s face popped up all over town and in the local newspapers and television.

A sign for Sirocco's Zealandia visit at the Wellington Railway Station. Photo by Elizabeth Marenzi.

Sirocco, world famous in Wellington

The night finally arrived. It was a cool but calm one, and luckily the earthquakes from the previous couple of days had quietened down. The night tour started with a screening of part of Alison Balance’s documentary ‘To Save the Kākāpō’ where we were introduced to Sirocco and the respiratory illness that almost took his life. Sirocco developed this condition while very young and was hand-raised, which has led him to imprint on humans. This makes him very comfortable around people (some might say too comfortable).

After the film the Zealandia guide took us into the sanctuary, making sure we checked all our bags and pockets for any stowaway pests that might harm the creatures that call Zealandia home. My bag was predator free (if a little messy) so we headed out into the night and up the track to see Sirocco.

The track along the way was beautifully lit up with fairy lights. While we walked I chatted with some of the other visitors in the group. I was surprised to find people had come from all over New Zealand, as well as the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

Fairy lights up the path to Sirocco's enclosure. Photo by Jo Moore.

Lights lead the way to Sirocco

Sirocco spends his days at Zealandia in a specially fenced off section of forest and at night he comes out into a display area. When we finally arrived at Sirocco’s display area he was already hopping around at the glass peering through to suss out his newest visitors. There was a group of children who he immediately ran to. Sirocco loves children and, at 16 years old, he is not much more than a child himself.

Over the next 30 minutes the DOC ranger told us all about the lifestyle of the kākāpō and about the efforts being undertaken to bring them back from the brink of extinction. Everyone managed to get a good view of Sirocco as he wandered the enclosure.

Sirocco in his viewing enclosure at Zealandia Sanctuary. Photo: Janice McKenna.

Sirocco meets his fans

On the way back down the track we were treated to some high pitched kiwi calls that resonated around the sanctuary. Seeing a kākāpō and hearing kiwi calls all in the same night was a great experience, something I hope becomes more commonplace throughout New Zealand.

If you are in Wellington in the next few weeks I would recommend you head along and cross this unique experience off your bucket list.

Sirocco on display at Zealandia Sanctuary. Photo: Janice McKenna.

Sirocco smiling for the camera


Sirocco at Zealandia:

Memories to last a lifetime – the night you met a kākāpō! Don’t miss this rare chance to meet Sirocco the kākāpō at Zealandia – just 10 minutes from Wellington city. Book your date now on the Zealandia website.