Press Release – New Zealand Government
Support for Kākāpō ongoing
Minster of Conservation Eugenie Sage has commended the work of the Department of Conservation’s Kākāpō Recovery team as it battles a deadly disease threatening to devastate the kākāpō population.
“Like many people I care deeply about the kākāpō and am proud of the dedication and expertise of DOC’s team and their work with Ngāi Tahu in leading the recovery of this important taonga species.
“Aspergillosis is notoriously challenging to treat in birds. It is difficult to diagnose early, difficult to treat and can be fatal. Having just spent time on Whenua Hou I’ve seen first-hand how much mahi DOC staff and volunteers are putting in on the front line to care for kākāpō,” says Eugenie Sage.
“The Kākāpō Recovery Programme alongside Auckland Zoo, Massey Wildbase, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital, Wellington Zoo and avian experts around the world have been working tirelessly to fight this disease. The support and assistance of these organisations and their staff and volunteer teams is hugely appreciated. It is a big team effort.
“Sadly, seven kākāpō including two adults and five chicks have already succumbed to this disease and many more are receiving urgent, intensive treatment.
“The Kākāpō Recovery Programme is expected to cost up to $2 million this year, plus the additional cost of the aspergillosis outbreak.
Funding for Kākāpō Recovery comes from a mix of core funding from the Department of Conservation’s budget, public donations, and commercial partnership support from Meridian. In non-breeding years about a third of the recovery project funding comes from public and partnership contributions.
“It’s great to see the level of public support for the kākāpō flowing through in donations to help support the recovery project. New Zealanders and people around the world have also thrown their support behind the kākāpō, donating more than $150,000 to the response so far this year.
“So many people are passionate about kākāpō conservation. The kākāpō is one of our species that receive intense public interest, with particular birds such as Sirocco having “superbird” status. Donating is one way people can contribute to the cause in a practical way, complementing work funded by core DOC funding and enabling additional research.”
Work is ongoing to understand the cause of the present aspergillosis situation, as is disease screening for the kākāpō population.
“It is unknown why the fungus, that is common and usually harmless in the environment, has had such an impact this year. But I’m confident the DOC team and their huge support contingent will continue doing everything they can to save this taonga,” says Eugenie Sage.
What is Aspergillosis?
Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that is difficult to diagnose early, difficult to treat and often fatal.
Aspergillus spores are common in the environment and typically only cause disease if individuals have reduced immunity and/or there is an increased concentration of spores in the environment.
The current hypothesis on the cause of this outbreak is that there is a significant spore loading in nests on Whenua Hou this season, coupled with possible nest stress, leading to infection. Other potential causes of low immunity are being investigated.
Kākāpō Recovery is working with Auckland Zoo, Massey Wildbase, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital and Wellington Zoo to understand the underlying cause and to prevent as many future cases as possible.
So far 17 birds have preliminary diagnosis, along with 4 borderline cases, 2 unknown (results pending). Importantly test results for 9 birds have so far come back clear.
Kākāpō are a taonga species to all Aotearoa. DOC works in partnership with Ngāi Tahu with the support of national partner Meridian Energy.
2019 was the biggest breeding season for kakapo on record with almost every breeding age female laying eggs. The current population of adult kakapo is 142, with just over 70 new chicks hatched this year.
Whenua Hou/Codfish Island is one of New Zealand’s most important wildlife sanctuaries. It is an important location for many threatened fauna species, including the kākāpō, Codfish Island fernbird, Cook’s petrel, mottled petrel, Whenua hou diving petrel, kākā, yellow-eyed penguin, Campbell Island teal and short-tailed bat.