Kākāpō are flightless nocturnal parrots that are unique to New Zealand and a taonga (or treasure) for Ngāi Tahu, the Māori people of the southern islands, the Department of Conservation noted in a news release. The bird is one of the most distinctive roaming the Earth – with an owl-like face, pot belly and life span that can reach 90 years. But the kākāpō has been critically endangered for decades.
The 2022 breeding season brought 55 new chicks, increasing the kākāpō population by almost 28% since last year, when there was a total of 192 birds. To put that number into perspective, there was once only about 50 kākāpō left – when the bird's population reached an all-time low in the 1990s.
Kākāpō victorious: World's fattest parrot wins New Zealand Bird of the Year
“There is an all-hands-on-deck approach to saving kākāpō,” New Zealand conservation minister Poto Williams said in a statement. “This has been the second-biggest breeding season, leading to the highest number of birds since the 1970s, but we can’t take our eye off the ball."
It's official, the kākāpō population is now 252, the highest it's been in almost 50 years!
A significant milestone that couldn't have happened without the support of our partners @NgaiTahu @MeridianEnergy. Read more: https://t.co/hg0cWv3wEk
📸: 2022 Anchor chicks - Brodie Philp pic.twitter.com/opZ8X8lOWT
— Department of Conservation (@docgovtnz) August 9, 2022
The kākāpō conservation team has also seen growing success in artificial insemination efforts, which is crucial for a species that has very low fertility rates and breeds only every two to four years, according to the Department of Conservation.
"Between 2009 and 2019, with the help of international experts, five chicks were produced by artificial insemination. Due to COVID-19 border closures, the team tackled the project alone in 2022 and produced a record-breaking nine chicks," Williams said.
Andrew Digby, science adviser for the New Zealand Department of Conservation's Kākāpō Recovery, also celebrated the success on Twitter Tuesday. Digby confirmed that eight of the nine chicks produced by artificial insemination have survived, "helping improve genetic representation and fertility."
It’s been a great year for #kakapo artificial insemination. After 5 successes from 2005-2019, this year *8* AI chicks have survived - helping improve genetic representation and fertility. Pic: kākāpō AI guru Daryl Eason, taken by team vet Lydia Uddstrom #conservation #kakapo2022 pic.twitter.com/ExDHsUBeJ9
— Dr Andrew Digby (@takapodigs) August 9, 2022
In Tuesday's announcement, Tāne Davis, who has been the Te Runanga O Ngāi Tahu representative for the recovery program since 2005, added that, "Ngāi Tahu connections to the mauri of kākāpō is strengthened as the population grows."
What's everyone talking about? Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Endangered New Zealand kākāpō parrot sees population boost