Introduction

A male kākāpō last seen 21 years ago on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, just off Stewart Island, has been rediscovered, adding his genetics to the small but increasing kākāpō population.

A male kākāpō last seen 21 years ago on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, just off Stewart Island, has been rediscovered, adding his genetics to the small but increasing kākāpō population.

Rangi, one of 24 founding kakapo males from Stewart Island, had not been seen since his release 21 years ago. Photo: Deidre Vercoe.
Chris Birmingham with Rangi

Rangi was found on Waitangi Day by Kākāpō Recovery ranger Chris Birmingham after he heard a male booming where there had been no previous booming activity.

Unable to locate a transmitter signal, Chris investigated further and knew when he saw a leg band that this kākāpō was one of four males released onto the island sanctuary in 1987, but had not been seen since.

Kākāpō Recovery team leader Deidre Vercoe said Rangi’s return not only boosted the kākāpō population to 91, but his genetics as one of 24 founding kākāpō males from Stewart Island could further increase the critically endangered birds’ gene pool.

Rangi’s DNA will be tested to determine if his genetic make up is subtly different from the other Stewart Island males.

“His rediscovery has provided us with extra genetic material to work with. The Stewart Island founders have very similar genes, but if Rangi’s genes were found to be a bit different that would be a boost for the Recovery Programme,” Ms Vercoe said.

Rangi was one of four males released onto Whenua Hou 21 years ago. Photo: Deidre Vercoe.
Rangi's leg band

She said the recovery team had often looked for sign of the four missing kākāpō, but after 21 years you cannot help but start to presume they are dead. Rangi’s discovery had given the team fresh hope of finding more both on and off the island.

“Here you have a kākāpō that remained undetected for 21 years on a highly managed island then consider the scale of Fiordland, there could easily be a few more out there but it’s completely needle in a haystack stuff.”

It has been a big couple of days on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island for the Kākāpō Recovery Programme with the success of artificial insemination by Spanish vet Dr Juan Blanco.

A female kākāpō laid two fertile eggs after she was artificially inseminated by Dr Blanco, a world renowned expert in the area of wildlife reproduction.

Ms Vercoe said while it was too soon to know if the eggs were the product of artificial insemination or prior mating, it did show that using the method did not impact on laying.

 “This is great news for the recovery effort and a fantastic reward for Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd whose additional funding has supported the insemination programme over the last several years.” 

Rio Tinto Alcan (NZ) Ltd, formally known as Comalco, has been providing financial assistance to the Kākāpō Recovery Programme since 1990.

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