Firstly, let me get one thing out of the way; Kakapo are awesome. I may be biased by the fact that they are my favourite animal but just take one look at these giant, flightless birds and tell me they’re not great. These New-Zealanders are packed full of character (yes, I am referring to THAT Stephen Fry documentary) and rumour has it their feathers smell like the inside of an old violin case?! One could say that they’re the Regina George of the bird world. Chances are you may not have heard that the Kakapo had a record breeding season in 2019 and I am here to tell you this because quite frankly, it is bloody brilliant news. For the first time in over 70 years their numbers have reached over 200. This is an amazing feat considering that back in the mid-1970’s it was thought that this charismatic bird was extinct.
I understand that it is important to be aware of the major injustices and problems in the world, especially in the environmental realm where much seems to go ignored by those in power, but let’s take a moment and appreciate this. In a world where we constantly hear of species number dwindling it is heartwarming to hear such tales of success. The major reason Kakapo numbers dwindled was invasive species brought over by European settlers to New Zealand. As the kakapo is flightless and nests on the ground, it was easy prey for the invasive stoats and rats. Invasive species are sometimes overlooked as a cause of extinction, but actuality it is one of the biggest culprits in terms of decimating animal populations. It is particularly problematic on islands such as New Zealand, which has no naturally occurring mammalian predators except for bats.
Through the creation of predator-free islands New Zealand has been able to foster the recovery of populations such as the Kakapo and it has the ambitious plan of being ‘Predator free by 2050’. The recovery of the Kakapo population is a testament to the altruistic capabilities of humans. The people who have worked on this project have given up their time, and often money, to help in the recovery of a bird that most of the world has never heard of. The job of a kakapo ranger is not an easy one, with early rises and long days of trekking to track down individuals – and sometimes going days without seeing even one. These people are incredibly dedicated and don’t work for the acclaim, they simply want to do their part.
An old adage in conservation is that ‘humans are awful and ruin everything’. I don’t agree and thinking this way is not going to help anything. Yes, some humans do cause untold damage and genuinely don’t seem to care about the natural world and yes sadly, it is these individuals who seem to hold many of the powerful political and economic positions. However, I honestly believe that the majority of people want to do good and just need to be educated on how to do so. There are already some wonderful people out there doing some wonderful things that we just don’t hear about through our media.
So I want to thank the Kakapo Recovery team for quietly working away over the decades. The revival of the Kakapo represents so much more than a conservation success story. It represents our capacity for altruism and empathy. Our capacity to right our wrongs. The Kakapo is not an ecologically necessary nor an economically profitable species and in a world where everything seemingly needs an economic justification to exist, this is important. It reminds us of one of the earliest lessons we are taught in morality: do something not for the sake of profit or congratulations, do it because it is the right thing to do.
If you would like to donate to Kakapo Recovery you can do so here: https://www.doc.govt.nz/kakapo-donate
Photo: Jack Osborne via Flickr
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