Thursday, 9 Jul 2020

Dwindling New Zealand kakapo population threatened by disease

WELLINGTON (DPA) – After a bumper breeding season for New Zealand’s critically endangered nocturnal parrot, the kakapo, a fungal disease is threatening the species’ survival.

Seven kakapo have succumbed in recent months to respiratory disease aspergillosis, the Auckland Zoo, where on Tuesday a 100-day-old chick died, said on Wednesday.

“At this time, 16 birds have been diagnosed with aspergillosis, so this chick is highly unlikely to be the last one we lose,” Dr Andrew Digby, science adviser for the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s (DOC) kakapo recovery programme, said on social media.

The chubby, flightless parrot has previously come dangerously close to extinction. In the 1990s, there were only around 50 of the ground-dwelling, nocturnal birds left.

Currently, there are just 142 adult kakapo alive, which have all found refuge from predators on the remote Codfish Island, or Whenua Hou, and Anchor Island, also known as Puke Nui.

A team of more than 100 scientists, rangers and volunteers had worked tirelessly to make this year the biggest breeding season on record.

The remaining 50 females produced 249 eggs, of which 77 live chicks hatched. Five of these chicks have so far died of aspergillosis, along with two adult birds.

“Despite a record-breaking number of chicks born this year, the kakapo population has been struck by aspergillosis – a disease that is ubiquitous in the environment, is hard to diagnose and even harder to treat,” Auckland Zoo said in a statement.

A total of 35 kakapo were currently in veterinary care for testing or treatment at three veterinary hospitals across New Zealand.

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