Comical kakapo has guest spot at Auckland zoo

By Eloise Gibson

Sirocco's billing is for one week only. Photo / Supplied
Sirocco's billing is for one week only. Photo / Supplied

Endangered kakapo may lack the gift of flight but at least one of them has been known to swim - because he thinks he is a human.

Sirocco the "confused" kakapo, who will be on display at Auckland Zoo next week, likes people so much that when a family of conservation rangers jumped off a jetty in the Marlborough Sounds, he decided to jump after them.

The rangers had no idea whether kakapo could swim and watched in horror after they heard a "thud, thud, thud, splash" behind them.

To their relief, Sirocco turned and calmly paddled back to shore.

"He shook himself off and looked at them as if to say, 'What's the big deal?'," said Department of Conservation spokeswoman Nicola Vallance.

Sirocco is one of just 124 kakapo left in the world. There were only 91 until a bumper crop of chicks was born this year.

To celebrate Conservation Week and the 33 new chicks, he will be on show in a darkened enclosure at the zoo from Monday.

Ms Vallance said the 12-year-old was too closely related to the remaining kakapo females to be valuable for breeding, and, anyway, he tended to shun other birds.

Instead he is a wannabe human boasting 400 friends on his Facebook social networking page, where he informs readers that he is a fan of comedian Rhys Darby and television puppets Sooty and Sweep.

"He thinks he is a human and you can't blame him because he was hand-reared without other kakapo," said Auckland zoo vet Richard Jacob-Hoff, who will keep an eye on Sirocco during his visit.

"He's a little bit confused but he seems perfectly happy."

Sirocco was born in 1997, when there were so few kakapo he had to be reared without other chicks. As a result he lavishes all his attention on people and enjoys sitting on knees and following people about daily tasks.

He has been known to make a nest on the path between the volunteer accommodation on Codfish Island - the remote sanctuary off Stewart Island where almost all kakapo live - and the toilet so that he can ambush people at night. "If you go out in the middle of the night you may well end up having Sirocco run up your leg and perch on your head," said Ms Vallance.

He makes yearly trips to a nearby public sanctuary, Ulva Island, to receive visitors. For most people, an encounter with Sirocco is their only chance to see a kakapo: volunteers can wait up to four years to spend a few weeks on Codfish.

Mr Jacob-Hoff said he was thrilled to have him at the zoo: "The chances are this is the only time you'll see one in your life."

DoC staff hope that one day Sirocco will go and live with his own kind.

He is young in kakapo terms - the oldest known kakapo is thought to be between 80 and 100 years old.

Visitors will be taken through his enclosure in groups next week, separated from him by a perspex screen to protect him from domestic parrot diseases.

Kakapo - solitary, intelligent and curious members of the parrot family - were thought extinct until they were re-discovered in the 1970s in Fiordland. Another population was later found on Stewart Island, but by 1995 there were only 50 birds left.

SIROCCO
* Kakapo ambassador.
* Age 12.
Where: Auckland Zoo.
When: 14-23 September.

- NZ Herald

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