Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Commitment to Kakapo

I am currently in New Zealand working with the Kakapo Recovery Program once again.  Sirocco is doing fine and is happily roaming his own Island. This time the focus is on this year’s chicks that are living on Codfish Island, a very special private island close to Stewart Island.

I have only been here a day, but already I can’t help but take note of the kind of work and commitment that goes into this conservation project. Clearly “good enough” is not satisfactory here. What I have already observed is a level of commitment and work ethic that exceeds what you might expect in the average workplace. These folks live, breathe…maybe even ooze conservation.

The work day starts with a kind of plane ride most of us have never experienced. The commute occurs in a small 5 seat plane that lands on the beach. The pilot first makes a thrilling swoop over to make sure the “runway” is safe for landing. I must admit as a nervous flyer I was bit apprehensive.  But in reality it was more like a thrilling roller coaster ride.  Check out the video clip of the first landing on Stewart Island to see what it is like.

This isn’t a daily commute, just a drop off. Some stay weeks. Some stay months. And this is another part of the commitment. Life on the island isn’t glamorous and work doesn’t happen only Monday through Friday from 9-5. Kakapo don’t take days off and neither does the team. And remember kakapo are nocturnal.  This often means loooong night time hikes up muddy hilly terrain in the cold to check on individuals.

And this is exactly what happened my first night. We needed to check on two of the chicks that were being raised by their mothers. The chicks have already left the nest, but do stick close by, as does mom.  The rangers knew where to go. Once near the nest, telemetry is used to pin point the chick who is already wearing a transmitter.  The first chick Heather 2 hardly gave us a chance to check on her, only peering out from behind a tree. But it was easy to see she appeared to be alive and well.

The second chick was found near his foster mom Esperance. Her nest was the one featured on the streaming live camera.  In fact we found Esperance first, sitting calmly and quietly in a tree. Thinking she was one of the chicks we were hoping to train, we ventured close enough to offer a pine nut. The bird actually gently took two nuts, before we realized “That’s mom!” The chick Rakiura 3 was nearby and the rangers got onto the task of checking his transmitter for appropriate fit.

One of our training tasks for the wild birds is to work on ways to reduce or eliminate stress with capture and restraint for health checks and transmitter changes. These birds are not pets, nor are they meant to be, so this type of training challenge requires some special consideration. While we want them to allow us to approach, we don’t want them seeking human contact in general.  This first night out was a chance to see how they normally react. Overtime we plan to implement some strategies to help achieve our goals.

Back at the accommodations, the three hand raised chicks, Lisa 1 (from the taped egg), Rakiura 2 and Heather 1 also got started on training. All three birds are currently living in a large enclosure that is being used to acclimate them to living in the wild. The three birds will all be trained to make care in the wild easier. We already saw good response during our first two training sessions. Here is a short clip. I will share much more on these three in the next blogs.

This was all in just the first 24 hours.  The night time hike was cold, hard (for me) and long (4 hours) yet the rangers spent the time required to make sure Rakiura 3 had the perfect fit on his telemetry transmitter. And when it was time to leave Rakiura 3, one ranger raced back through the bush to make sure the hand raised chicks could get a late night feed and was up again bright and early the next day for another feeding and our first training session.

My first impressions…..we are in paradise. But this is no vacation, this is extremely fulfilling work that is implemented by very dedicated people. And to them every chick (and adult kakapo) is very special indeed.

Follow my blog for more updates on our training of the kakapo chicks.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2014


ratgirl said...

Very cool work, Barb!! I LOVE that picture of half of you at the top. You look gorgeous!

Unknown said...

The look on your face is priceless!