The world’s fattest and only flightless parrot species is bouncing back from the brink of extinction.
Meet the kākāpō, the heaviest species of parrot on Earth. What you’re looking at is a modern dinosaur, a bird that has given up its ability to fly for a more “robust” body and a pair of wings that don’t do much to keep it airborne. Or anything to keep it airborne, really.
Not only are the kākāpō the world’s fattest parrot, but they might also be the oldest. The kākāpō is believed to be able to live to the ripe old age of 100, beating out the African grey, the cockatoo, and the macaw as the longest-lived parrots.
However, their longevity didn’t save them from humans. Prized for their meat and their feathers, the native Maori people of New Zealand hunted the kākāpō mercilessly. With the introduction of European colonists and non-native predators like cats and weasels in the 19th century, the kākāpō didn’t stand a chance.
Today, the entire kākāpō population is down to just 147 individuals. But thanks to what may be the world’s most intensive conservation effort, the kākāpō is bouncing back.
The Kākāpō Recovery Programme began in 1995 with a plan. First, they rounded up every living kākāpō and transported them to two islands in New Zealand that were completely free of predators. Next, they tagged and named every living individual so they could closely monitor them. Finally, they took regular DNA samples and tried to prevent inbreeding by gently encouraging the right birds to mate.
Even with these efforts, inbreeding almost doomed the species. Almost half of all kākāpō eggs were laid infertile until very recently.
Thankfully, the Programme is having great success this year. According to The Guardian, 49 out of 50 kākāpō females laid eggs and a total of 76 eggs hatched over the past year. Conservationists expect 60 of those chicks to become adults, boosting the kākāpō population by a whole 34%.
This wouldn’t have been possible without some hefty human intervention. Chicks are often taken to be hand-reared if the mother appears unable or unwilling to rear their young. Humans are so often seen that many kākāpō will even approach humans and perform interesting mating rituals in front of them.
Eventually, scientists hope that with enough help the kākāpō will be able to return to the mainland where they can repopulate New Zealand once again. With this year’s breeding season, there’s real hope that the kākāpō will live on for future generations.