World kakapo population rises by five

Critically endangered kakapo are having a good year.

Five chicks hatching in the last two weeks have boosted the population of the world's rarest and heaviest parrot - unique to New Zealand - to 91, with two more due to hatch in the next fortnight.

Seven chicks may seem a relatively small birthrate, but the Department of Conservation (DOC) says it's "fantastic".

Kakapo recovery team leader Emma Neill said today boosting the population from 86 was "awesome, especially considering these birds only breed every few years".

Kakapo last bred in 2005 when four chicks were produced, but 2002 was a record year with 24 chicks.

This season, two of the younger females have bred for the first time at just six years of age - considered young for kakapo breeding when the previous youngest birds to breed were nine years old.

Ms Neill said further good news was that kakapo eggs this year proved 100 per cent fertile.

"In the last breeding season in 2005 the overall fertility rate was just 58 per cent, and because not every egg results in a hatching and not every hatching results in a healthy chick, we are doing all we can to improve survival rates," she said.

DOC staff and volunteers worked around the clock to look after the new arrivals on Codfish Island (Whenua Hou), a predator-free sanctuary 3km off the coast of Stewart Island.

Ms Neill said giving kakapo chicks the best chance meant nest-minding volunteers kept a night vigil, camping near nests to ensure the females incubate properly and sometimes covering eggs with heat pads when they left the nest to ensure they don't go cold.

Like many anxious new parents, the volunteer must cope with sleepless nights - but with the added discomfort of having to sleep in a tent, carrying heavy gear around rough terrain and working in foul weather.

Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick welcomed the latest chicks' safe arrival, saying it reflected New Zealand's international reputation in species recovery programmes.

"It is a credit to DOC to have brought this species back from the brink of extinction, and we should take pride in the fact our efforts with kakapo are recognised throughout the world," she said.

- NZPA

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