Going to Extremes- page 5 | Science | Smithsonian
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Going to Extremes

Without the extraordinary dedication of a few conservationists, New Zealand's kakapo would likely have gone the way of the dodo

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(Continued from page 4)

Not only is this remote island predator-free and covered with fruiting plants that will provide plenty of food for the kakapos, but Campbell is also big enough, at nearly 44 square miles, to support a large and growing population. An indigenous snowgrass that has a fruit similar to the rimu should help satisfy the demanding nutritional needs of the chicks. The kakapos should adapt well to the cold there, because they have as much as a half-inch layer of fat under their skin.

 

Merton, along with his team and six kakapos, hopes to transport the birds to CampbellIsland next year when the local plants are fruiting abundantly. A fixed-wing airplane equipped with emergency life rafts will accompany the helicopter containing researchers and kakapos on the nearly ten-hour round-trip flight to the island.

 

Is the kakapo worth all the fuss? Merton answers by citing the Chatham Islands black robin, once the rarest bird in the world, but now thriving in a self-sustainable population. “We absolutely must do the same for the kakapo, create a place and a situation where they don’t need us anymore,” he says. “If we can’t save the kakapo—our flagship species and number one conservation priority—what hope is there for all the other, less glamourous critters?” Merton adds that he would be the happiest man alive if he were able to put himself out of a job.

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