Sirocco the Kakapo

If you missed the last post that introduced my friends to Sirocco the world famous Kakapo, here is the video again that brought him such renown and infamy – and a two year rehabilitation programme that involved a large stuffed owl and produced a more socially adept kakapo ambassador…..

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The evening after Winter returned to the southern hemisphere, hurling rain, wind and bone chilling temperatures at us as a reminder that he wasn’t quite done with us yet we, Danella and I, donned our jackets, boots and scarves and headed off to meet our Kakapo Ambassador.  I’d like you to know straight off that Spring hurried to our aid that day and returned clear skies and milder temperatures in a briefly won battle with the grouchy old man.  In short, we had a narrow window of perfect weather to attend the meet and greet with our little celebrity.

We drove in the evening gloom, via Port Chalmers, on windy roads over the hills to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary

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I’m a little ashamed to admit it was my first visit.  I don’t have a big budget to live on and had never chosen to spend any of it visiting this place.  After this experience, that is about to change!

From the moment we entered the Visitors Centre we were greeted by friendly and efficient staff and volunteers.  Our group was about 25 strong.  It included two children, a number of tourists and several folk of the more elderly persuasion 🙂

We gathered in a small viewing room where we met our guides and saw a short introductory video on the history of the Kakapo and the conservation efforts made to save them over the past 50 years.  I felt like cheering when we heard that high hopes are held for the breeding season of 2019 as all the interminable variables are lining up in nice neat rows.

A lanyard bearing a large round numbered disc was issued to each of us with the request we wear it and don’t lose it.  If our number was not returned at the end of the expedition it would be assumed we were still out in the forest somewhere and a search would be mounted.  The tourists looked alarmed!  The locals nodded knowingly.

The centre of the Milky Way swirled in the night sky against the back drop of the crescent moon.   We walked quietly to the double gated entrance to the park.  We shuffled into the cage, getting up close and personal quite quickly with our fellow adventurers, while the first gate was closed and the second opened – and we were off on our 15 minute walk to Sirocco’s enclosure.  Less of a walk and more of an amble the crunch of feet on gravel pathways quietened the calls of the nocturnal singers.  But when we stopped moving they quickly resumed their warbling and calling.

About halfway through our slow amble we gathered on a platform beside a well grown Rimu tree and heard how the female Kakapo climbs up through the densely packed branches to feed on the tiny berries and then slips, slides and tumbles her way back to the ground.  She then makes the journey back to her nesting burrow – which could be as much as a kilometre away – to regurgitate the fruits for her youngster.  She can make this trip eight times each day for each chick she is raising.  And we think we have it hard!

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I love to see how the camouflage is apparent in the above photo – both these photos are courtesy of Google.

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While Mama Kakapo gets on with the job of laying, hatching, feeding and rearing her one or two chicks, Papa Kakapo is nowhere in sight.  His only contribution to the next generation is to build his elaborate booming bowl and fashion the tracks that lead towards it, for the ease of access of the ladies you understand, and then to commence booming every night for up to seven hours.  His goal is to entertain as many ladies as find him acceptable as possible.   Then I assume he goes off for a bit of rest and recovery …..

Sirocco has no interest in other Kakapo at all, being imprinted on humans as he is.  So, despite being the son of the last living female kakapo found on Stewart Island in the 70’s, his is not the destiny to further the recovery rate.  His is the inestimable task of ensuring we all fall in love with and want to save the Kakapo.  And he does it very well!

As we lined up along the perimeter of his enclosure looking at him and oohing and aahing and trying really hard not to tap on the glass and perturb him, Sirocco made a slow and stately perambulation on his side of the glass looking intently at each of us.  He stopped at the children and eyed a couple of bearded blokes for a few minutes before reversing his steps to do it all again.  He seemed to enjoy looking at us as much as we enjoyed looking at him.  I wondered if he thought his handlers trotted out little groups of people for his amusement every evening.

As well as not tapping on the glass we were asked not to use the flashes on our cameras for obvious reasons.  (One poor ill equipped gentleman took a photo and his red flash screamed through the dim light, causing him intense embarrassment and as much consternation as it did to us and the poor parrot.)  My camera lay in my jacket pocket forgotten as I watched, observed, listened and entered into a conversation with one of the two handlers.

When one of his handlers entered the enclosure then we really saw something happen!  Sirocco, it turns out, really is the dog of the bird world.  The young woman entered the enclosure when Sirocco was on the ground ogling at a bearded man.  On seeing her appear he turned and put out his right foot, raising it up and stroking her booted foot as she moved past him.  He then trotted after her, just like Siddy trots after me when we are off to do something exciting – like get treats.

As she moved about the enclosure talking to the group he followed, climbing up tree trunks and through bushes with speedy agility using his taloned feet and curved beak like a third foot.  The only time he opened his wings was to either use them for balance or to show off.  Climbing was a thing of cleverness and agility and beauty.  Coming down was usually a slipshod happenstance of small leaps, accidental slips and fearless tumbles.  He sat on her hand, her arm, her shoulder.  He nibbled at her affectionately and looked at us proudly as she whispered back to him.

I could feel tears prick my eyes and a lump in my throat as I watched and thought how close we had come to losing this amazing bird forever.  Once they were common, they were everywhere in this land.  People kept them as pets and some people captured and ate them.  When I was quite young, maybe around ten or so, I was bewildered when on showing an adult a picture of my favourite bird, he told me there were none left.  I had no concept of ‘none left’.

Soon after that Sirocco’s mother was discovered.  The last surviving Kakapo hen found after an exhaustive search on the island at the bottom of the country.  Thank heaven for those early conservationists!

Danella took these two shots of Sirocco.  They are terribly indistinct, but given the circumstances a nice little reminder of the event.  He posed most proudly for her and peered benignly at us afterwards before turning and making his way off to find some more folks to charm.

His feathers in the light look like velvet.

I hope one day to meet Sirocco again.  Just to be near him is quite special.  He has character and humour and represents a conservation miracle.  From a low point of an estimated nine extant kakapo in the late 70’s to today’s 148 survivors the committed work to preserve the species goes on.

It’s the only time I have ever wished I was young again – I’d be off to be a volunteer on one of the predator free islands where those dedicated conservationists watch over and monitor the birds.  Wouldn’t that be something!

Thanks so much for sticking with this post.  I put in a few links for those of you who may be interested in some of the more special aspects of my wonderful country – I hope you enjoyed following along and learning about this amazing bird and the efforts made to save the species from sure and certain extinction.  So much hope, such a great birthday present!!

Love that you came by today, thank you!

 

 

 

67 thoughts on “Sirocco the Kakapo

  1. Absolutely amazing. He is so adorable, and seems to understand so much.
    When I saw the first photo, and looked at his feathers, I nearly said “foliage” it just looks so much like leaves and plants. Truly remarkable colours and camouflage.
    I am happy to read that you intend visiting the place again. I hope you may also find other interesting places to visit some time. It is a small adventure each time to discover places in your own country.
    Reading about the conservation and great hopes for 2019, I am holding thumbs for them all, and all the good plans they have in place. We fight daily here to save our dearly beloved Rhinos, which is hunted every day, and killed so brutally. We should really learn more from you and your country and its conservation and predator free places.
    Thanks for a wonderful post.
    Take care and hugs to you all.
    xx

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    • I saw something recently about the attempts to keep the rhinos safe. There are some people there fighting hard on behalf of the free animal population. Your country has to deal with predatory human beings unfortunately. We just have to deal with real rats, much easier to dispose of……
      I’m glad you enjoyed meeting the fellow – I fell a little in love all over again with Kakapo – so characterful!! xo

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      • Yes, we unfortunately have predatory human beings. It is a constant effort and battle. I have a very good friend that works in rhino protection. He won an award last month for his work. I was very proud of him. But we are not there yet, and each day needs renewed efforts.
        lol. We have rats too. And pigeons. They are the “pests” in the city and all over the place.
        I loved the post on Kakapo. That was really special. 🙂

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        • Oh wow! Good on your friend! It must be so hard trying to save your amazing animals from their predators – that they are humans makes it worse I think! I so admire all the conservationists who get out there and do what has to be done. I’m so glad you enjoyed meeting the kakapo. Thank you xo

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  2. Animals are so magical and fascinating. What an experience. I can understand why you were hooked. To think that these beautiful birds were almost wiped out. Some people think that animals don’t have emotions when it’s so obvious that they are intelligent and feeling creatures, our brothers and sisters on this planet. Lovely post, Pauline. 🙂

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  3. What a remarkable story, Pauline. Thanks for sharing. Sirocco also seems to be quite the character and that first video was great. I hear you about thinking of being young again and wanting to volunteer on such an initiative. There’s so much in the world that needs help and attention.

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    • Hello Cynthia 🙂 This country has lost so many of its indigenous species of ground dwelling birds, due to human interference and ignorance, that there is a great will to keep what still lives and enlarge their dwindling populations wherever we can. This alone gives us all hope I think. Thanks for reading and commenting Cynthia.

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    • His feathers, in the light, look like velvet. His colour in the gloom is quite mossy – he has excellent camouflage! Even in his small viewing enclosure you could lose sight of him very easily as he dived in and out of the greenery. Interestingly he smells quite mossy – I think its the smell of the damp humus of our bush. (It’s a smell I’m particularly fond of.) His personal scent is quite strong and one of the (many) not helpful things about these birds, as predators can smell them out easily.

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  4. So glad you got to see the green whirlwind in the feather. I’m glad they’re being saved and that you got to make a journey to have a look. Caught this on Twitter earlier, but visited again as I’m trying to catch up!!!

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  5. A beautiful account of a very special day, Pauline. Thank you, so much, for sharing. This made me laugh: ” I wondered if he thought his handlers trotted out little groups of people for his amusement every evening.” And then I thought, “I bet that’s exactly what he thinks. It’s probably his favorite time of day.”

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  6. This sounds like such a great visit, Pauline. I am glad it was possible. And I hope the kakapo population continues to grow. I have recently listened to stories of the huia. They are unbearably sad. I would hate for that tale to be repeated with our other birds.

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    • That was another beautiful bird I heard had died out from the same man – unfortunately he was proved right in their case. Do you remember the writing pads we had at school that featured native birds in large glossy photos on the cover? They were all so beautiful and while the Kakapo was my favourite the huia was such beautiful oily colours, it was right up there too. Though I think I was maybe a little alarmed by that long curved beak! I believe they were hunted to extinction because their feathers became a fashion statement…………..

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  7. Pauline, reading this so made we want to visit NZ….again. I love NZ. Hopefully next year.
    Thanks for writing about this or I’d have never known. How’s your spring shaping up. It is gorgeous here in Sydney! The invite stands Pauline 🙂

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    • Hello Shubha 🙂 Thank you for the invitation again – I’ll certainly be in touch if Sydney ever looms on my horizon! Spring zips back and forth between winter and summer – today was summery. Tomorrow could be anything. The only thing I know for sure is it will contain weather. Let me know if you are coming this way xo

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    • It was the times wasn’t it – all of Europe had that arrogance didn’t they as they sailed out into the world knowing better than those they found, intent on ‘civilising’ nature and making everywhere the same as they had left. I confess, I’m not a believer in any country or race looking back and blaming – or holding out for compensation. Let’s just get on and change for the better. Go Sirocco!! 🙂

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderfully informative post. This bird has wonderful personality! You are right, much like Siddy. We humans can wipe out a species faster than a virus. Why don’t we learn these things in school at a young age or by our parents? This was so delightful to read. I do hope they find a way to bring this species back from near extinction.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed it Marlene. I think the younger generations are better educated on conservation than we were – we were of the generations that thought we owned the earth and could do as we wished and all would be well. My parents generation loved plastic – my mother thought it the bees knees and threw away all her fine china and silverware and filled her house with plastic replicas because it couldn’t be broken and wouldn’t wear out……. No wonder I became a homegrown herbalist and pseudo-hippie in the 70’s 😀

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  9. What a wonderful experience. Sirocco is an amazing bird. I am glad the conservation efforts for the Kakapos are going so well. Thank you for writing this post. I felt like I was there experiencing it along with you. Long live the Kakapo.

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  10. You told this story so well–I felt like I was there, and I so wish I could be. What an amazing little fellow, and he is doing his part for the survival of his pride admirably–those also serve who only charm the humans who can help the species flourish! I’m so glad your favorite bird didn’t go extinct . . .

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    • This should be his motto: ‘Those also serve who only charm the humans who can help the species flourish!’ I said it elsewhere here in the comments, but I’ve only just realised that it was the closing of an almost 60 year old circle of pain and shock from ‘there are none left’ to meeting the ambassador of the survivors. It was a better night than I realised!

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  11. What an amazing adventure. I was totally engrossed by your narrative, I could almost see him looking at each individual visitor. How wonderful that there are people out there to save these beautiful birds (and many other animals). This wasn’t just an enjoyable post, this was an education. Thank you!

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    • Oh Karen, thank you for this lovely comment. I feel like everyone should know about the plight of these birds and love them as much as we do. The conservationists are young and dedicated and so enthusiastic too. They come from all over the world which is also heartwarming! There are pockets of people all over the globe tirelessly working to save some endangered species or other – it’s uplifting and heartwarming to know isn’t it?

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  12. So very well written, Pauline. I was relieved to red that the weather had changed, because I imagined you so well wrapped up that you might have resembled a stuffed owl which may have had unfortunate consequences. The slip-sliding female put me in mind of Winnie the Pooh. That first picture of Danella’s is a great, quirky, portrait

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    • 🙂 Your comment may explain why he particularly admired the well wrapped little tourist children….. And, you have hit it, there is much of Pooh Bear in this little fellow’s antics. It is impossible to not be charmed. It’s a shame about the lighting, for otherwise D’s photo would be perfect! He bustled over to her and waited while she got her camera in position and blinked benignly at us before ambling off to find someone else to charm.

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  13. Scirocco is a special fellow, full of charm and cleverness (and we’ll forgive him his lack of grace). In fact, to hear you tell it, that makes him all the more charming. I would have teared up as well, Pauline. What an incredible experience. I’m so glad you and Danella could enjoy this together. I love New Zealand! Your country is doing something that few even try, making great effort to bring this special bird back from near extinction. What patience it takes to keep the island free of pests, allowing the Kakapo a shot at recovery. I hope to return to New Zealand one day, and will put this atop the list of things to enjoy, hopefully with all of you. xo

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    • Immense patience and determination has been required over many decades to save these ground dwelling birds, to raise public awareness and interest and to keep on monitoring and deterring the predator population. It’s far more complex than I was aware of and even the conservationists are on a huge learning curve. I hope you do get to come back and when you do we’ll go in search of Sirocco so you can meet. Kakapo live a long time – it’s thought as long as human beings or maybe even longer in the right conditions – so he’ll be around for a while yet 🙂

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  14. I’m so pleased spring returned briefly for your amazing birthday outing, Pauline. What a fabulous post this is. I very much enjoyed learning about Sirocco the Kakapo and his antics that you were able to observe up close and personal. How wonderful it is that the conservationists were able to save this unique creature from extinction. There are many more to save too. I know they’re working on it. They’ve done well with the whales too since whaling stopped. I’m pleased you celebrated your birthday in such a special way. Best wishes.

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    • You are right Norah – there are so many people doing so many good things to change our world for the better! And it is always heartwarming to see it up close and personal ❤ I read that in this country alone there are almost 3000 species in danger of extinction – this includes plants as well as many species of animal and fish. It's unbelievable isn't it. And there are people everywhere beavering quietly away doing their best to save what they can. What are the numbers in Australia like?

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