Kakapo returns to North Island of New Zealand


Four Kakapo have been released at a reserve on the North Island of New Zealand, marking the first time in 40 years that the species has been present on the mainland.

The translocation comes after decades of hard work by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ngāi Tahu through the Kakapo Recovery Programme, utilising both science and matauranga Māori to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. There has been a recovery from a low of 51 birds in 1995 and since 2016 the population doubled to reach a high of 252 birds in 2022. Now, their island homes are almost at capacity.

Returning the Critically Endangered nocturnal ground-dwelling parrot to the mainland has been described as "significant for all New Zealand" and "a shared success story for all partners involved."

Kakapo is a flightless parrot; its name comes from the Māori word 'Kākāpō', meaning "night parrot" (Jake Osborne via Flickr).

The translocation marks a new phase for the recovery of this taonga species. A major goal for Kakapo conservation is to return them to their natural range on mainland New Zealand in unmanaged populations, but they – like many other species – need habitat free of introduced mammalian predators. 

Moving a group of the birds to the 3,400-ha fenced Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is the next step of this process. As with any new step in threatened species recovery, there is still an element of the unknown with this translocation, DOC's Deidre Vercoe explained.

She said: "Sanctuary Mountain is a large space, with plenty of good habitat for Kakapo, but it's still unknown whether they will successfully establish here long-term. The main focus of this translocation is to learn if Kakapo can thrive in a fenced sanctuary, while taking pressure off the islands ahead of future breeding seasons."

Kakapo last lived on mainland New Zealand in 1980s, the remnant of a small group of wild birds foundin Fiordland in the 1970s. The last time the species was present on the North Island was in the 1960s, when five were in captivity at Mount Bruce.

Currently Kakapo only live on five offshore islands: Anchor Island and Chalky island in Fiordland, Codfish Island and Pearl Island near Rakiura Stewart Island and Little Barrier Island.

The four birds to be moved are all males and will not yet breed at Maungatautari: the main focus is learning what types of new habitat outside of the established offshore islands that the species can live in.