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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
“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.