DOC kākāpō operations manager Deidre Vercoe says the critically endangered parrot only breeds when rimu trees put out masses of fruit (what’s known as a mast year), which typically takes place every 2–4 years.
“Our team have surveyed rimu trees on Whenua Hou, Anchor and Te Kākahu-o-Tamatea islands, where kākāpō live. All indications point to a reasonable breeding season.”
Kākāpō breeding is complex. They only breed if more than 8% of rimu tips bear fruit. The higher the percentage, the more females in the population are likely to breed.
So far, the results for Whenua Hou show 31% fruit tips, Anchor at about 22% and Te Kākahu 14%. Based on the numbers, there’s potential for around half the eligible female population to breed.
“Fruiting tips can be lost over winter, so we will recount in the spring to give us a clearer number of nests we’re likely to expect,” Deidre Vercoe says.
Kākāpō last bred in early 2019 when a record 73 chicks were added to the population. The current total population is 204.
Ngāi Tahu representative to the Kākāpō Recovery Group Tane Davis says the signs for a 2022 kākāpō breeding season are promising.
“Ngāi Tahu Whānui take great interest in participating and supporting the recovery of kākāpō by sharing their matauranga Māori knowledge, and managing the Mauri Ora Kākāpō Trust on behalf of Kākāpō Recovery. All donations go directly to supporting the Mauri Ora – the vitality and health – of this critically endangered taonga species.”
While the promise of a potential breeding season is great news for the threatened species, kākāpō still face many challenges in their journey to recovery.
Infertility and disease are big issues within the population. As large, flightless birds with no defence mechanisms other than camouflage, they are particularly vulnerable to predation by introduced mammals such as stoats and cats.
Currently the entire breeding population live on predator-free offshore islands.
“Soon we’ll run out of space on these offshore havens,” Deidre Vercoe says. “That’s why initiatives such as Predator Free 2050 are so important. It will be fantastic to one day return them to the mainland.
“As the population continues to grow, it highlights the need for more predator-free homes so we can secure the future of kākāpō.”
Meridian Energy has been the national partner of the Kākāpō Recovery Programme since June 2016. Meridian contributes to the growth of the kākāpō population by helping DOC fund research and pioneer conservation techniques relating to genetics, nutrition and disease management.
They also help DOC find new sites for kākāpō to live and breed, and raise awareness of the need to support kākāpō. Meridian works closely with Ngāi Tahu in this partnership.