A well-known New Zealand conservationist, Don Merton, has been given the honour of naming the 100th kākāpō.

Date:  16 November 2009

A well-known New Zealand conservationist has been given the honour of naming the 100th kākāpō.

Long-standing kākāpō worker and conservation pioneer Don Merton chose the name Te Atapo, meaning “the Dawn: After the Night” because of its significance to the recovery effort.

He said the name came to him immediately.

“The 100th kākāpō symbolises the dawning of new hope – a brighter future after an unprecedented dark episode in kākāpō history,” he said.

There were just 51 known kākāpō in 1995. Today, thanks to the ongoing conservation efforts of dedicated people like Don Merton, the number is 124.

Don Merton with Richard Henry 1999.
Don Merton with Richard Henry in 1999

Kākāpō recovery manager Deidre Vercoe said Mr Merton’s expeditions into Fiordland and Stewart Island in the 1970s and 80s to search for kākāpō and his drive to rescue and establish them on predator free islands averted their extinction and was instrumental to the species recovery.

“His capture in 1975 of Richard Henry, the only known surviving Fiordland kākāpō, has helped ensure the birds’ survival by increasing the seriously depleted gene pool. The population would not be where it is now if it wasn’t for Don and all his hard work.”

Through the name, Mr Merton also acknowledges the crucial contributions made by the many people behind the recovery programme and in particular his wife Margaret whose second name is Dawn.

“The 100th bird symbolises a very significant milestone in the ongoing struggle spanning more than a century of literally blood, sweat and tears by countless dedicated individuals to save one of New Zealand’s – and the world’s - most remarkable and iconic birds,” he said.

The 100th kākāpō hatched during this year’s outstanding breeding season which produced 33 chicks.

Ms Vercoe said the 33 chicks were doing really well and have been busy giving their new island home a once over.

“They are settling in really nicely. They are now totally independent and have been exploring the islands thoroughly.”

Twenty-three chicks were put on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, just off Stewart Island, while Anchor Island in Fiordland, is home to 10.

About Don Merton

Don was instrumental in the kākāpō recovery programme for the Wildlife Service, and, since 1987, its successor the Department of Conservation, from its tenuous beginnings in 1975 when he was put in charge of finding and saving the kākāpō at a time when no kākāpō were known to exist! He continued to play a leading role in the programme until his retirement (after 48 years service) in 2005. He continues to closely follow and advocate for the species.

As well as involvement with kākāpō, Don is known for developing and leading the successful recovery programme for the Chatham Island black robin and is considered a pioneer in bird conservation both nationally and internationally.

In 1989, Don was awarded the Queen's Service Medal; in the following year he received the Royal Society of New Zealand's Sir Charles Fleming Memorial Award for Environmental Achievement.

In 1992 Massey University acknowledged his contribution to conservation with the conferral of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

2009 kākāpō breeding season

The 2009 breeding exceeded all expectations, taking the kākāpō population past the 100-mark for the first time in decades.

The sex ratio of the chicks hatched during the 2009 breeding season is 20 males and 13 females.

The 2009 breeding season saw 36 chicks hatch but three died.

Seven chicks stayed on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to be raised by their mothers.

Twenty six of the chicks were hand-raised at an Invercargill facility after the rimu fruit failed to ripen leaving insufficient fruit for all the females to feed their young with.

More than 100 volunteers each contributed two weeks worth of their time to kākāpō recovery this summer over a period of three months. This time added up to 4.2 year’s of volunteer person-hours.


In the breeding season, which usually starts in about December, male kākāpō start a courtship competition for female attention by making a low booming noise. This is part of a communal, courtship display known as “lekking” – first recognized in kākāpō by Don in 1975. Lek displaying is not known from any other parrot species in the world - or from any other New Zealand bird.

The Department of Conservation’s kākāpō recovery work is actively supported by a partnership involving Rio Tinto Alcan NZ, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd and Forest & Bird

First signed over 20 years ago, the agreement is one of DOCs longest running conservation partnerships injecting more than $3m towards breeding programmes and predator proof sanctuaries for the flightless parrot.

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Don Merton or phone + 64 7 576 2965.

Kākāpō Recovery manager Deidre Vercoe or phone + 64 3 211 2481

More about kākāpō:


Kākāpō Recovery website

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