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The Story of the Kākāpō + Giveaway

kakapo new zealand

This is a story a long time in coming, my favorite kind of story. I’ve been savoring it for a while, waiting for the perfect moment to finally share it with you guys. Are you ready?

Last night one of my biggest New Zealand dreams came true when I had the privilege of meeting a very special New Zealand bird, Sirocco the Kākāpō in Wellington and to be part of a very cool giveaway (details at the end).

The Department of Conservation, (DOC) was celebrating 25 years of partnership with New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) on the Kākāpō Recovery Program; it’s DOC’s longest running sponsorship program and through its creation and development, kākāpōs have been brought back from the very brink of extinction as well as becoming an example for how to save other New Zealand species. I originally heard about the program through a friend who works at Forest & Bird, who are also partners in the recovery program.

And after months and months of emails (read – me harassing DOC to meet Sirocco) I was invited to come and help share the kākāpō story.

Oh my god guys, can you believe it?

kakapo new zealand

Important people were there – here’s the Minister for Conservation with the CEO of NZAS meeting Sirocco

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

It’s been almost two years since I was living in Wellington, and almost the exact moment I fell in love with New Zealand birds and became interested in conservation here. My roommate dragged me camping on Matiu/Somes Island in the harbor for the night, and it was the first of many New Zealand firsts for me.

It was the first time I saw the Southern Cross and the clearest Milky Way I’ve ever seen. It was my first time camping in New Zealand. I saw tuatara (native New Zealand reptiles or I’m fairly convinced, tiny dinosaurs), wetas (dinosaur bugs that can grow larger than your hand), and little blue penguins.

It was my very first experience with New Zealand conservation too – the island being a predator-free scientific reserve.

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

From there I was inspired to visit Zealandia in Wellington, and go glamping on Kapiti Island, a large predator-free island up the coast and learn all I could about New Zealand birds. From there, it was a slippery slope downhill of turning me into a giant #BirdNerd.

Why do I keep blabbering on about these predator-free spots? For for millions of years, the islands of New Zealand developed without mammals (except a couple of bats). It was a nation of birds, many of them evolving and losing the ability to fly, but when people arrived 700 years ago, they brought along things like rats, possums, cats and other things with teeth, decimating the birds.

Now, thanks to the amazing conservation work going on here, many predator-free areas and islands have been created to house these endangered birds and helping them grow again on their own.

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

I don’t know what it is that got me with all of this. I have always loved animals but I don’t think I would have ever imagined I would become so interested in birds, even though I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. I think what tugs at my heart the most about it is the fact that the birds in New Zealand are so special, rare, and occasionally pretty weird.

And it makes me so incredibly happy to see that the people here both recognize how special their birds are too (and have done so for over a century) and have worked tirelessly to save them. Well, you know, save them after accidentally causing 40% of all the native bird species to go extinct. Better late than never, right?

But seriously, I love that all my friends here each have a favorite bird, and that everyone, literally everyone, cares about saving the birds to the point where it’s totally normal to hear things like “if you see a possum on the road, you should run it over.” Because they are pests and are killing native species. Kiwis love their kiwis.

Seeing that passion and seriousness nationwide makes me care too. How could it not?

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

It was here at Zealandia that my friend Kim, who now works at Forest and Bird, first told me the story of the kākāpō (night parrot in Māori), which quickly became my favorite New Zealand bird.

Millions of years ago kākāpō roamed all over New Zealand and was the third most common bird. Now there are only 125 kākāpō left. To me they almost seem like eccentric misfits of the animal kingdom. They can’t fly. They are nocturnal and they are pretty hefty (weigh up to 4kg) and are the heaviest parrot in the world. Oh, did I mention they can live to be over 100? But they only have chicks every couple of years, according to a particular fruit harvest, so they are not the most prolific of creatures.

And do kākāpō have a soft birdy chirp or can they repeat profanities like other parrots? Nope! They have a subsonic mating BOOM call. Down on the three predator-free islands where all of the kākāpōs live in New Zealand, you can apparently hear them booming from the mountaintops looking for a lady.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be one of those settlers here hundreds of years ago and to hear these booming calls in the middle of the night from mountaintops and echoing down valleys, only to find it’s coming from a large bright green bird that’s waddling through the forest that kinda looks like a parrot and an owl had a baby? Bizarre probably didn’t even begin to cover it.

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

Stewart Island Flights doing a low pass over Sealers Bay Beach before landing at low tide with staff and food for the Sealers Bay Hut for the Dept of Conservation Kakapo Recovery Programme on Whenua Hou – Codfish Island, West of Stewart Island

The arrival of people in New Zealand almost meant the end for the kākāpō. Between being hunted, plucked, stuffed, and having their habitat destroyed for farmland, they literally were on the brink of extinction.

By the 70’s there were thought to be no females left until a colony was found on Stewart Island, and over 40 kākāpō captured and relocated by Gary Aburn, proving that even just one person can save an entire species.

By the 90’s there were less than 50 kākāpō left but thanks to massive conservation efforts over the past 25 years by the Department of Conservation (DOC), NZAS, and Forest and Bird, the Kākāpō Recovery Plan was introduced to help save them.

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

As my friend Kim and I walked around Zealandia waiting for the sun to set so I could go on a walk to look for kiwis (the bird this time), she told me the story of the most famous kākāpō of all – Sirocco. Returning to meet him here was like coming full circle.

18 years ago when Sirocco was a chick, he became sick and had to be hand-raised by people which meant he imprinted on humans. Yes, guys, Sirocco doesn’t realize he’s a bird and is totally disinterested in other kākāpō, instead booming at humans. Can you see where this is going?

A few years ago Sirocco got super frisky with on a BBC documentary with Stephen Frye and jumped on zoologist Mark Carwardine’s head and tried to mate with him ON TV AND IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER (video here). Obviously we all know how the internet works and Sirocco quickly become a viral superstar and became the Official Spokesbird for New Zealand conservation.

Obviously if I didn’t love them before, I do now!

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

Over the past 2 years I’ve fallen in love with Sirocco on his Facebook and Twitter, and every few months would send out a hello skraaaaarrrk and see what was up and when he would be out in public again.

Kākāpō are really rare and really protected in New Zealand, so you almost never get to see them – the islands where they live are not open to the public (more on that in a minute, stay tuned!) and Sirocco is an important link between us and them. While most of the year he lives in the wild alone, part of his duties as Spokesbird means he travels around New Zealand and makes appearances where you might get the chance to meet him.

Sirocco on tour!

He was winding up a 6 week stint at Zealandia when I finally managed to score an invite to meet him face to face. Dreams come true guys!

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

I even wore my kākāpō t-shirt all day for luck, even at meetings inside the DOC head office. Yes, I am that person.

I could barely focus through the evening of speeches; all I could think about was when I would meet Sirocco. Even though I’d seen countless pics and videos of him, I had never seen a kākāpō in real life before – I wondered if they look the same? Was he just a cheeky as I imagined? Would they let me inside the enclosure? What if he jumped on my head? What if I dropped him? Would I be able to get a selfie? You know the important things.

Be cool, Liz.

The only thing that kept me from crying from excitement as I walked up to the window for the first time was the fact that I was surrounded by important people in suits.

kakapo new zealand

My first impression was that he was so much bigger than I imagined! And rotund!

kakapo new zealand

As I stepped back from the crowd and stood behind everyone, just taking it all in and observing how everyone else was interacting with Sirocco (about a million iPhones) the most beautiful, simple moment unfolded before my eyes.

Miriama Evans Ōraka -Aparima of the Ngāi Tahu iwi (tribe), knelt down at the corner of the enclosure by Sirocco just watching him. Through the chaos and cacophony of the crowd and glowing phones, I heard the echoes of a song. She was singing softly to Sirocco in Māori, the words of a mihi (Maōri greeting) to Sirocco and acknowledging Tāne, god of the forest. I put my camera down and just watched and listened, privileged to have a glimpse into such an extraordinary moment between two people. In this moment Sirocco was almost human, as he glanced over his wing at back at her. 

The Ngāi Tahu are the predominant Maōri tribe of New Zealand’s South Island, and have strong cultural, spiritual and traditional associations with the kākāpō. Even now, the lost feathers of the kākāpō on Codfish Island are returned to them.

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

But when everyone left and it was my turn to visit Sirocco inside his enclosure, I was literally giddy. I couldn’t believe this was finally happening, and I could barely form a sentence when his lovely handler Alisha brought him over to me to hold and give him some snacks.

I like to think I won him over with walnuts and he’ll definitely remember me.

As I was holding him, and all of these moments I imagined came to fruition, I realized why I loved them so much. Kākāpōs are history come to life, the relics of a bygone age and it’s our job to save them and help protect them!

In Māori, kākāpō are considered taonga or treasures, and I couldn’t think of a better word to describe them.

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

kakapo new zealand

As I took my last selfie and said goodbye to Sirocco, I was on cloud 9. There is nothing more amazing than the pure euphoria of having something you dreamed about finally coming true.

I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear once we were back inside, and over cheese and bubbles, one of the NZAS team and Nic, the endangered species ambassador, told me the story of another famous kākāpō – Ruapuke.

When he was in his egg, his mom Lisa accidentally squashed him! Every kākāpō egg is precious, and DOC rangers managed to fix his egg up with PVC glue and masking tape (typical New Zealand) and he survived! Miracle kākāpō!

Ok, I have to meet Ruapuke!

kakapo new zealand

After talking to DOC and NZAS, they agreed to sponsor a competition winner and friend to come with me to meet Ruapuke and visit Sirocco’s family on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, one of the kākāpō reserves and be a kākāpō ranger for a day! Can you believe it?

This is a really big deal, guys. Codfish Island is not open to the public and it’s really rare for people to get to interact with kākāpō, let alone visit the reserve where they all live. This is an incredible opportunity, and once in a lifetime for many.

I can’t wait to share this amazing experience with two of you guys! Even if you aren’t in New Zealand, please share with your friends because someone might be able to!

Competition details here:

  • Trip dates are Sunday November 22nd to Thursday November 26th 2015
  • Domestic New Zealand flights are included as well accommodation
  • I’m told this is not for the faint of hearted, and you have to be in shape and fit and be prepared for a “good hard slog through the mud, off track, uphill, and through dense bush all day” Um, yay. Time to hit the gym!
  • Competition page is here to enter – entries close on Friday October 16th at 5pm NZ time.

Seriously, how cool are kākāpō? Did you fall in love with Sirocco and Ruapuke’s story too? Would you like to visit them on Codfish Island with me? Have I turned you into a bird nerd yet?

kakapo new zealand

A million thanks to DOC, NZAS and Forest and Bird for believing in me and inviting me to meet Sirocco and Ruapuke. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done (and I don’t say that lightly) and means the world to me. Thank you for letting me part of the kākāpō story. Like always I’m keeping it real, all (fangirl) opinions are my own – like you could expect less from me. 

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56 Responses to The Story of the Kākāpō + Giveaway

  1. Katie September 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    Hands down one of my favorites of all your posts, ever. Your joy is spilling through my screen! I’ve been getting more and more interested in bird conservation in NZ, but until this post, I’d never heard of kākāpō. I can see why you love them! This contest sounds like a truly amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip!

    • Liz September 17, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      Yay thank you!

    • Visiit.com January 19, 2016 at 11:11 pm #

      You just typed what I thought. Amazing bird. Lovely post.

      • Liz January 24, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

        thanks!

  2. Niki September 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    This is such a great post. Kakapo are definitely my favourite NZ bird, especially Sirocco and his cute fat face! 🙂

    • Liz September 17, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      Me too!

  3. Carmen September 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    OMG, I didn’t realize that this bird is the size of a fat cat! Hilarious! He looks so cute, though ^^ I’m a total bird nerd myself, so thanks for this post 🙂

    • Liz September 17, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

      He is pretty big!

  4. Jade Craven September 17, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. As you’ve probably noticed on twitter, I’m a huge fan on the Kakapo. Especially Sirocco. I accidentally discovered him via the ‘Last Chance To See’ TV series and have been flirting with him, or the person behind the account, ever since.

    I think NZ is doing a fantastic job with wildlife conservation, way better then Australia, and they have a solid social media presence to prove it. The @spokesbird twitter account has helped raise awareness of so many environmental issues that ultimately impact on me, due to the countries being so close. I am in awe of what they do.

    Am also super jealous because that is my life dream you’ve achieved! This has really cemented my dream to come to NZ and check out the wildlife.

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 11:59 am #

      I totally agree, one of the things I love most about New Zealand is how passionate they are for animal conservation, they realize they have a special country and are doing all they can to protect it. I wish it was like that in America. I think having Sirocco does an amazing job of humanizing conservation here and really getting to people care in a funny way, and note being boring. Love him!

  5. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas September 17, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Apart from an adorable bird and your fangirlness, a great introduction to conservation efforts. Bravo!

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 11:59 am #

      Thanks!

  6. Amy M September 17, 2015 at 11:34 pm #

    What an experience! I love how much you’ve fangirled, it’s so sweet.
    But your description for why you love them hits the nail on the head. We, as humans, are the reason for the annihilation of so many species so it’s so refreshing to see that a small group of incredibly hard working people have manage to save this gorgeous-yet-slightly-odd looking bird from completely disappearing. Can’t quite get over the fact that they saved the egg with tape and glue – it’s awesome! xo

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

      I know, it’s such a cool story! I can’t wait to meet Ruapuke in a few months!

  7. Megan B September 18, 2015 at 1:39 am #

    Okay, that video was hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing. What amazing birds! I can’t believe I have never heard of them. Then again, I’m in America…so it does make sense.

    I wish i could enter the competition, but I’m sharing it on Facebook in case someone I know can do it!

    Have the best time meeting the whole family!

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

      They aren’t very well known, even in New Zealand! Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Katie September 18, 2015 at 3:45 am #

    New Zealand native birds are so special and you are so lucky you got to see a Kakapo in the flesh! When I was working at a hotel in Hamilton about 12 years ago we had a DOC guy and a touring kiwi stay with us. The kiwi had been caught in a trap when it was young and lost it’s leg but can’t be re-released back into the wild. It’s super tame and used to people and tours around schools in NZ. The DOC Officer bought it out on the lawn and we got to pat him – it was amazing

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

      That’s so cool! I bet it made you really love kiwis after that too. Its something pretty special to have the chance to interact with them!

  9. K September 18, 2015 at 7:26 am #

    I’d never heard of a kākāpō before. That is one crazy bird. He kind of looks more like a big melon than a bird. LOL But cute! What a fabulous experience for you. Great post!

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

      It’s like a parrot and an owl had a baby with an avocado, so cute and so awesome!

  10. Laura September 18, 2015 at 8:11 am #

    Thank you for sharing Liz, I’d never heard of a kākāpō before and your enthusiasm is infectious!

    I didn’t know what a kiwi (bird) was until I made friends with Kendyl, a Kiwi (native) two years ago. I had an inkling it wasn’t the fruit, but a bird!

    I tried to watch the Stephen Fry video but it seemed to link to a different episode? It may have been my computer but in case it happens to anyone else I just wanted to let you know!

    Thanks again and I look forward to hearing about your visit to Codfish Island!
    And Sirocco looks so sweet.

    Laura

  11. Petra @ The Global Couple September 18, 2015 at 9:49 am #

    Ahh awesome! Love kākāpō. I remember when I was a kid the numbers got down to 50-something and it was looking pretty dire. Thank goodness the kākāpō recovery program came to the rescue! I’ve entered the competition – what an amazing experience that would be… hope I win!

    • Liz September 18, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      Yay! I know, its so amazing how they are coming back from extinction!

  12. kiwijo September 19, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    Liz, this post has me in tears. I was fine up until the point where the Maori lady started singing to him. I LOVE Kakapo. I remember watching Stephen Fry on Stewart Island and giggling away when Sirroco was getting a bit frisky. When I left NZ in my 20’s I didnt appreciate New Zealands unique flaura and fauna, but as I get older I seem to connect with my home land on a much deeper level. I cant wait to return home for good.
    Most excellent post.

    • Liz September 22, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

      Thank you!

  13. John September 20, 2015 at 9:24 pm #

    Lovely story, and you gotta love that sort of enthusiasm! Lucky, lucky you, meeting the kakapo! You know, as fabulous as they are, my fave will always be the kokako – I’ve been lucky enough to hear and see kokako in the wild, and their call still sends shivers up and down my spine!

    However, spreading the NZ bird gospel in stories like this is just magic!!

    • Liz September 22, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

      Thanks! I don’t think I have been lucky enough to see them yet, where are they usually found?

  14. Ron September 21, 2015 at 5:23 am #

    As an investor in industrial stocks, it’s nice seeing NZAS commitment to the Kakapo Recovery Program being recognized. They appear to be one of the better companies dealing with environmental issues.

    Sirocco is fat!.

    • Liz September 22, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Such a fattie!

  15. Britt September 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

    New Zealand is definitely one of those countries that does an amazing job at conservation.

    Kakapos are sooo cute. I’m so jealous you got to meet Sirocco!

    • Liz September 22, 2015 at 8:15 pm #

      THanks!

  16. Laura Carmona September 24, 2015 at 8:46 am #

    This is a wonderful story about one of the symbols of wild life in danger of extinction that is seen . the light at the end of the tunnel.thanks for show the nature and the photos of this beautiful bird

    • Liz September 24, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks!

  17. Anna September 25, 2015 at 1:28 am #

    He is adorable – and so big!

    • Liz September 25, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

      very big bird!

  18. Neville September 30, 2015 at 9:34 am #

    A wonderful article and love your enthusiasm for the Kakapo and New Zealand.

    Your getting the message out about bird conservation in NZ is simply brilliant, this is a once in a life time experience

    • Liz October 3, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

      Thanks!

  19. Holly Rueger October 4, 2015 at 11:10 am #

    I had never heard of the Kakapo before, it has an amazing history. I’m personally blown away at the efforts of Gary Aburn, what an amazing impact one person can have!

    • Liz October 11, 2015 at 12:40 am #

      Right???

  20. Martha October 15, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    This is awesome! i had heard of the kakapo but not actually known a lot about or known much about sirrocco. now that i read your blog article, ive become entirely ecstatic. this bird awesome!! I was really thrilled and excited at the chance to enter the competition to see ruapuke! and travelling through parts of the island, but then was disapointed to see you needed to be a NZ resident 🙁 I look forward to hearing about the trip though!! Write lots and take a load of pictures!! 😀 😀

    • Liz October 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

      You don’t have to be a resident but you have to be here for it because the flights provided are only domestic!

      • Martha October 16, 2015 at 4:49 am #

        Oh i see! .. hmmm … i could maybe try then 😀 wellp. Its worth it 😀

  21. Katie @ Katie Wanders October 17, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    HA! I randomly saw that video of the frisky bird and news reporter. Cutest bird I have EVER seen you are so lucky! So bummed I missed the giveaway! What an amazing experience!

    Thanks for sharing their story

    Katie @ Katie Wanders

    • Liz October 21, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

      They are the coolest!

  22. Emma @ BooksandBoardies October 31, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    What beautiful birds! They really do look like a kind of parrot/owl hybrid which is something that could not fail to be awesome. I cannot believe they masking taped the egg together and more incredible is that it worked. More Kakapo’s yey!
    So gutted I’m not in New Zealand til next year as that would be an amazing competition to enter, what a fantastic experience. I hope you and the winners have a fantastic time.
    Thanks for sharing the birds story as it’s definitely something I knew nothing about and can’t wait to find out more when I come to NZ.

  23. Lisa Jordie @TheDriftingDesk December 27, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    Wow. You look absolutely glowing holding that previous baby! Thank you for introducing us on your blog to this awesome animal.

    • Liz December 29, 2015 at 7:52 am #

      Thanks!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Kākāpō are booming « Conservation blog - September 24, 2015

    […] “Miriama Evans Ōraka -Aparima of Ngāi Tahu, knelt down at the corner of the enclosure by Sirocco and sung softly to Sirocco the words of a mihi.” – Writer Elizabeth Carlson, details her experience meeting Sirocco […]

  2. In search of Kākāpō - 24 hours on Whenua Hou - Young Adventuress - December 15, 2015

    […] that above all deserves to be heard around the world. My love for these odd parrots was solidified after meeting Sirocco in Wellington a few months ago, a very special […]

  3. Top 10 native species of 2015 « Conservation blog - December 31, 2015

    […] The kākāpō  didn’t take out New Zealand’s Bird of the Year competition (or our countdown) this year, but Sirocco’s Kākāpō‘s online support continues to grow. This year, Sirocco got to meet blogger, world traveller and ‘bird nerd’ Young Adventuress. You can read all about their meeting on her blog. […]

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  5. Who I'm voting for.... - Young Adventuress - October 18, 2016

    […] I mean, I pretty much ramble on about these amazing birds as often as I can! Kākāpō have an amazing story that deserves to be shared with the world, and I want to do my part as best as I possibly […]

  6. Who I’m Voting For…. | Bloggsom - October 19, 2016

    […] I pretty much ramble on about these quirky birds as often as I can! Kākāpō have an amazing story that deserves to be shared with the world, and I want to do my part as best as I possibly can! […]

  7. What are some of the weirdest looking animals that most people aren’t familiar with? | Vinod Kumbar - November 30, 2016

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