Kakapow! Rare world’s fattest parrot has record breeding season

These three kakapo chicks on their nest on Codfish Island, also known as Whenua Hou, are among the 249 eggs that have hatched so far in this year’s breeding season. (New Zealand Department of Conservation/AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019
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Kakapow! Rare world’s fattest parrot has record breeding season

  • Females control the breeding process and only mate every two to four years when New Zealand’s native rimu trees are full of fruit
  • The surviving kakapo — whose name means ‘night parrot’ in Maori — are kept on four predator-free islands

WELLINGTON: The world’s fattest parrot, the critically endangered kakapo, has enjoyed a record-breaking breeding season, New Zealand scientists said Thursday, with climate change possibly aiding the species’ unique mating spree.
Less than 50 years after the flightless nocturnal bird was thought to have been extinct, at least 75 chicks are expected to survive this year, Andrew Digby, a science adviser to New Zealand’s kakapo recovery, operation said.
Digby oversees a breeding program so precisely monitored that scientists can state the last of 249 eggs laid will hatch on Friday.
It will significantly boost the population which has grown to 147 adults since a small number of the plump green, yellow and black birds was discovered in 1970.
Digby described the kakapo as an “unusual” parrot as the females control the breeding process and only mate every two to four years when New Zealand’s native rimu trees are full of fruit.
“We don’t quite know what the trigger is but one of the things we are looking at is that the rimu berry is really high in vitamin D, a super food basically, which is associated with fertility and health,” he said.
The rimu trees have produced a bumper crop this year with Digby saying one theory was that climate change and temperature fluctuations could be behind the berry bonanza.
The surviving kakapo — whose name means “night parrot” in Maori — are kept on four predator-free islands off the New Zealand coast.
At the start of the breeding season, the males which weigh about 4 kilograms (nine pounds), put themselves on display while the females choose a partner.
They mate and then end the relationship, shutting the male out of the incubation and rearing processes.
The kakapo recovery program is so tightly monitored that although they remain in the wild, each one has a radio transmitter attached to its body and there are monitoring systems embedded in their nests.
Digby knew that of the 50 adult females, 49 produced 249 eggs, of which 89 have so far hatched and 75 were expected to make it to adulthood.
That is more than double the success rate from the last breeding season three years ago.
“It’s probably one of the most intensively managed species in the world,” said Digby, who wants at least 500 birds before any thought is given to easing up the intensity of the recovery operation.


Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

Updated 19 May 2019
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Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

  • Iceland received around 2.3 million tourists last year
  • The influx of visitors can disturb the natural landscapes in the country

FJADRÁRGLJÚFUR, Iceland: A large sign warns motorists that Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur canyon is closed to visitors but drivers keep on coming down the narrow gravel road. A ranger at a roadblock has to explain why no one can pass: The vulnerable landscape cannot sustain more visitors.
Blame Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop star with a worldwide reach.
Bieber’s magical music video “I’ll Show You” was filmed at the canyon and seen by millions, creating overwhelming demand for the once-pristine spot. For a chance to follow in Bieber’s footsteps, his fans are not letting a few fences, signs or park rangers keep them away.

Eager visitors try to sweet-talk ranger Hanna Jóhannsdóttir into opening the gate. Some offer bribes. They should know in advance it’s not going to work.
“Food from people’s home country is the most common bribery,” said Jóhannsdóttir, who recently turned down a free trip to Dubai in exchange for looking the other way at trespassers.
The Bieber-inspired influx is one part of a larger challenge for Iceland — the North Atlantic island nation may be too spectacular and too popular for its own good.
Last year 2.3 million tourists visited Iceland, compared with just 600,000 eight years ago. The 20% annual uptick in visitors has been out of proportion with infrastructure that is needed to protect Iceland’s volcanic landscape, where soil forms slowly and erodes quickly.
Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson said it is “a bit too simplistic to blame the entire situation on Justin Bieber” but urged famous, influential visitors to consider the consequences of their actions.
“Rash behavior by one famous person can dramatically impact an entire area if the mass follows,” he told The Associated Press.
Bieber has the third-largest Twitter account at over 105 million followers, after Katy Perry and Barack Obama, according to friendorfollow.com — and he has over 112 million followers on Instagram.
In the viral video — watched over 440 million times on YouTube since 2015 — Bieber stomped on mossy vegetation, dangled his feet over a cliff and bathed in the freezing river underneath the sheer walls of the canyon.
“In Justin Bieber’s defense, the canyon did not, at the time he visited, have rope fences and designated paths to show what was allowed and what not,” Gudbrandsson said.
Over 1 million people have visited the area since the release of the video, the Environment Agency of Iceland estimates, leaving deep scars on its vegetation. After remaining closed for all but five weeks this year, it is expected to reopen again this summer only if weather conditions are dry.
Icelanders are reluctant to fault the pop star, who enjoys enormous support on the island. About 12% of Iceland’s entire population — 38,000 people — attended his two concerts in Reykjavík, the capital, a year after the video was released.
Locals underestimated the canyon’s potential as a major attraction because it’s relatively small compared to those formed by the country’s powerful glacier rivers. But unlike others, it is easily accessed and requires less than a kilometer of trekking.
The selfies and drone images have stopped — for now — but more exposure is coming. The latest season of the popular HBO drama “Game of Thrones” features scenes filmed at the canyon. The nearby Skógar waterfall and the Svínafells glacier are also backdrops in the fictional Thrones world of warriors and dragons.
Inga Palsdottir, director of the national tourism agency Visit Iceland, said a single film shot or a viral photograph has often put overlooked places on the map.
The most extreme example, she said, is the Douglas DC-3 US Navy plane that crashed on the black sand beach at Sólheimasandur in 1973. The seven Americans on board all survived but the plane wreck was never removed.
“Then someone decided to dance on it and now it’s one of the most popular places in the country,” said Palsdottir.
On a foggy Wednesday morning, ranger Jóhannsdóttir observed fresh footprints on the muddy pathway to the Fjadrárgljúfur canyon, indicating that someone had jumped the fence overnight.
She predicted that more people would trespass that afternoon when she left the roadblock to give a presentation at a community center. She was right. Less than 30 minutes passed before tourists began ignoring the fences and signs.
“We came because of Justin Timberlake,” said Mikhail Samarin, a tourist from Russia, traveling with Nadia Kazachenok and Elena Malteseva, who were quick to correct the artist’s last name to Bieber.
“It was so amazing,” said Malteseva about the Bieber video. “After that, we decided it was necessary to visit this place.”
The three took turns posing for a photograph, standing at the edge of an Icelandic cliff.