Thursday 23 July 2009

Worried out of my Wits

In addition to being tired for 19 months in a row now (future fathers beware) a recent incident has got me worried. Yes indeed, my current times are tough and as shared problems are problems halved (as the saying goes in German), I decided to do some blogging about it.

The Kakapo (and you sensed this would be about the Kakapo, right?) is not only one of the truly magical and most special bird species to grace our planet, it has had its ups and downs in a remarkable way as well.
Its biggest up-phase was surely in the days of old when there was no-one inhabiting New Zealand but the birds, and the Kakapos in their millions busily trotted the forest floor in search of fruit amongst the burrows of assorted seabirds, minding their own business and worrying about nothing really but how to make more Kakapos than there currently were.
It soon got a bit tricky though when the later-to-be-called Maori arrived 700 years ago and brought in a few mammalian predators, but the Kakapos still managed to stay on top of things and remain common throughout the islands' forests that were lovely, dark and deep.
Bad luck started to hit the birds in earnest with the large-scale arrival of the European traders and whalers around 1790 (now, here's a big surprise). It got particularly nasty when those Europeans eventually noticed that the land was nice and the Maori no real match to their rifles (although they sure gave them some hell occasionally) and thus decided to settle there in large numbers, bringing in more variety and viciousness to the already established yet alien mammalian fauna.
This was clearly too much even for a timid creature like the Kakapo and they rightfully felt offended in such a way that their numbers declined sharply. It is as yet and unresolved matter if the Kakapos were driven out of their natural range by encroaching humans and the terrible smell of English afternoon tea or by rats, cats and other hairy threats (well, maybe the matter was resolved recently). Possibly it was a combination of both and whatever it was, the Kakapos were so not amused that they got scarce enough to be feared extinct by 1970.

Being feared an extinct species was clearly the dramatic low as far as we can tell, although each surviving member of the Kakapo kind surely was barely aware of it, still busily trotting the forest floor in search of fruit amongst the vacated burrows of extinct seabird populations, minding their own business and worrying about nothing really but how to make more Kakapos than there currently were.

Luckily however, as a result of a human change of heart (or was it the discovery of humans that they had a heart after all?), the species was searched for, rediscovered and effectively protected and has since started a slow yet rather steady climb to recovery, numbering 125 birds in 2009.

This figure is far from the millions that once were, but better than the zero that once was feared.
If current trends continue, we can safely assume that a world population of 1,000 birds will be reached in roughly 200 to 300 years. In geological terms this is very soon, in biological terms... ah well, I've always liked the geological time scale in certain contexts.

Now however, the species' future is in dire jeopardy again through circumstances as yet beyond the powers of manipulation by human kind:

Have you read the news that New Zealand moved 30 cm (!) closer to Australia due to a single earthquake off its coast?

Australia, as you may know, is full of big furry and hungry predators and if this rate of approach continues, New Zealand's predator-free Kakapo Islands will be within leaping range of Dingos and Devils within a mere 7,500 earthquakes.

And you know what the problem is? Clearly this: who can tell at what maximum rate those earthquakes can occur? Once every thousand years or a thousand each year?

No-one can tell, that's who.

Surely some scientists might argue that probabilities for such an earthquake to occur repeatedly within a biological time scale are low, yet with a bird as special as the Kakapo, probabilities are just not enough to rely upon.
So, as I have shown by clear reasoning, the recovery of the Kakapo is merely a small breath of hope into the storm that is looming doom (gosh, how much I had hoped to write a similar text about loons, entitled "doom looms over loons", but I couldn't find anything on flightless, nocturnal loons in New Zealand and all that rhymes with parrot is carrot).

And that has me worried.

I really think DOC should lift the ban on visiting Kakapo islands so that at least the bird will be on everyone's life list before it ceases to exist in a mere 7,500 earthquakes' time.

Go for it, DOC - just go. As long as I am allowed in first.


noflickster said...

Your persuasive argument has me worried now. Thanks for that.

BTW, ferret rhymes with parrot, though maybe that's not as pleasing visually.

Jochen said...

Oooh, Mike, to rhyme "ferret" with "parrot" in a post on the Kakapo is pretty dark stuff.


Anonymous said...

Great post - I actually ticked the kakapo off my life list when I did volunteer feedouts for a fortnight on Codfish Island back in 2006. It was the best thing I ever did, and the great thing is you can now register yourself as a volunteer through the Kakapo Recovery Programme website if you're interested :)

corey said...

Well, Jochen, it seems that you have to get seems the perfect volunteer opportunity for someone used to getting up in the middle of the night for feedings anyway.

Jochen said...

Becki, that must have been an amazing experience. During a short (3 week) birding holiday to NZ in (I think) 2000, I was flown from Invercargill to Mason Bay and dropped off on the beach. Mason Bay must be one of the most wonderful places on earth, the wide open bay, the endless beach, the seabirds and to the north, Codfish Island, home of the Kakapo. Of course I had no means of getting to the island and only sat on the dunes gazing over the strait to the lush island forests, imagening being there amongst the parrots. But it sure felt very good to be so close (and yet so far - wait, that was the not-so-good part of the feeling).
Thanks a million for the link, if times improve I'll surely make it there again and the next time, I'll be sitting on Codfish Island, gazing over the bay to the beaches of Mason Bay...

Corey, just you wait (yet again a "MY Fair Lady" citation, in case you were wondering), you'll soon be the leader of the Leage of the Sleepless and will then appreciate that any joke about young parents not getting any sleep is
N O T F U N N Y !!!!


By the way, I would have expected you to comment on my description of the NZ forests, but apparently you have forgotten about your roots. Sad, man, sad, no traditions ey?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jochen,

It truly was an amazing experience. I actually got to wait on the beach at Mason Bay on both the inbound and outbound flights to Codfish so we may well have stood in the same place! Codfish was like my own little paradise island for a fortnight :) Let me know if you want more info and I can drop you an email!

corey said...

I can't believe I missed that.

A pox on me! A pox!


Jochen said...

Becki, I'll get in touch with you.

Corey: A pox won't make the shame go away, you know?