by Sue Hensley
It’s been great having Sirocco at Orokonui. People have come from all over New Zealand including a school group from Hanmer Springs, and from overseas including Japan and the UK.
But Sirocco is not just a visiting rock star who performs on stage, he is here for a serious purpose. Kakapo are found only in New Zealand and are critically endangered, numbering only 124 individuals. They are long-lived (80-100 years), breed intermittently and have levels of infertility which create enormous challenges for the recovery team. Plus they are on strictly quarantined islands that are not only remote but difficult and expensive to access. Kakapo are probably the most expensive species to conserve but the goal is eventually to have a self-sustaining population, and everything is done with this in mind.
Sixteen years ago when Sirocco hatched on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, knowledge of raising kakapo chicks was in its infancy. A respiratory infection at three weeks of age necessitated Sirocco’s removal from the nest and he was then hand raised. No other chicks were in the crèche at the time and Sirocco became human imprinted, a situation that will not happen again.
Even when released Sirocco preferred to hang out with humans at the hut and could often be heard tapping on the window at night, wanting humans to come out and play! He has even developed a babble sound which is a kind of imitation of human talk. As he reached sexual maturity he chose the pathway between the hut and outside toilet for his booming arena, specifically to attract humans. On more than one occasion he was taken to the far side of the island but he simply made a bee-line back to the hut. He is just not interested in other kakapo. He actively engages with humans and is keen to get into his ‘display pen’ where the humans are on show.
This is why the Department of Conservation allows him to visit sanctuaries such as Orokonui. He is an ambassador to promote the cause of New Zealand’s endangered species, particularly the kakapo. No other kakapo will be used in this role. Sirocco is one of a kind.
Lots of things are happening in October as well. Otago skinks will be making an entrance. The research begun by the late Diane Campbell-Hunt has been completed by her husband Colin and the book will be launched on 12 October. Monitoring of recently translocated saddleback will be ongoing, and school holiday programmes will be running. Information and events can be found on www.orokonui.org.nz or on our Facebook page. The visitor centre and café are open daily.