Kakapo Jayne

I love kakapo.

I love them so much I know their Latin name, Strigops habroptilus, without looking it up. I love them so much I once named a canary after them. I love them so much I sometimes listen to their calls on my CD player while I’m washing up. I even have a list of all their names pinned to the wall of my kitchen. My favourite (though I’ve never met him, and probably never will) is a kakapo called Gumboots who was caught in the wild in 1988.

I love them so much that I can’t help but feel sad.

Why?

Because there are only 86 kakapo left in the entire world.

Picture the world’s heaviest parrot: completely flightless, with a longer lifespan than pretty much any other bird on the planet (nobody knows for sure, but it seems they can live for up to 60 years). Hailing from New Zealand, like many of that beautiful country’s flightless birds they suffered greatly when men settled on the islands, falling prey to rats, cats and other introduced carnivores. Since the 1980s the Kakapo Recovery Plan has been struggling to increase their numbers, rounding up every bird in the wild – not that there were that many in the first place – and settling them on two islands free of predators. Slowly, kakapo have been breeding, their numbers rising. There are so few of them that every chick who doesn’t make it is named and mourned.

Kakapo are among the rarest and most extraordinary creatures this world has ever seen. Douglas Adams wrote about them in his book Last Chance To See, loving the way they climbed trees and threw themselves from the branches, apparently oblivious to the fact they couldn’t fly. (Luckily, the ground in New Zealand is very mossy and they bounce quite nicely.) Other than this endearing habit, kakapo are known for their booming mating call and, mostly, for their exotic scent – nowhere summed up more poetically than in this paragraph from Wikipedia.com:

“One of the most striking characteristics of Kakapo is their pleasant and powerful odour, which has been variously described as like flowers and honey, an air freshener or the inside of an antique violin case.”

Isn’t that just exquisite? How can a bird smell like the inside of an antique violin case? How lovely is that?

The reason I’m waxing lyrical about kakapo is because yesterday my friend Martin paid me a visit and, as is my wont whenever I get the chance, I took him to the Natural History Museum for the afternoon. And there, in one of the display cases, not far from the stuffed dodo and the thylacine and the other faded jewels of the animal kingdom, sat a dusty, ruffled kakapo, peering out through the glass at the ghosts of his disappearing brethren.

There’s something unutterably sad about seeing a dead kakapo gathering dust in a museum.

86.

In the whole world. Think about it.

86.

“The kakapo is a bird out of time. If you look one in its large, round, greeny-brown face, it has a look of serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it that everything will be all right, though you know that it probably will not be.” – Douglas Adams.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Kakapo Jayne

  1. Ricky Carvel

    Hello.

    This is my first visit to your blog. I’ve been reading your column in SFX since… well, since you started doing it I suppose. And every month I think “I must have a look at her blog… I wonder why ‘kakapojayne’… I bet she doesn’t actually say anything about Kakapo parrots…” and then totally forget about it anytime I’m near a web browser.

    But today I remembered to have a look and instead of all the posts about life, the universe and David Tennant (which I was expecting), I find a post all about Kakapos. “Wow!” I think “it really is a blog about kakapos, not SF”. And then I scroll down and discover that it actually is a blog about life and David Tennant (didn’t spot much ‘the universe’ content) with nothing about kakapos until this week. Weird.

    PS assuming you’re still working on your new year’s resolutions I have a word of advice: Don’t attempt to read all the Sherlock Holmes stories back to back, your brain will implode. I tried this on holiday a few years ago, the only book I took with me was the Complete Sherlock Holmes, and after about 15 short stories you really can’t take any more and there are about forty more than that…

  2. Biddy Brumpton

    Pah! Ricky, you have no stamina! I had the same New Year’s Resolution and suceeded in reading every single Sherlock Holmes story in one very intense six-week period! I’m not sure it had too much of a detrimental effect on my brain, but then, as Jayne would no doubt agree, my brain has always been a bit wierd…

    Jayne’s pal, Biddy x

  3. Jayne Nelson

    I can honestly say this was my first blog about kakapos, inspired purely by the sight of that poor, lonely bird at the Natural History Museum. I may never post about them again. I’m glad you knew what a kakapo was, though!

    I’ve read two Holmes stories so far but life keeps getting in the way. I intend to blitz-read them, just like Biddy, so LOOK OUT, BRAIN!

    My office is just around the corner from Baker Street, so I feel the presence of Mr Holmes at all times. It’s quite reassuring. The Elvis shop is right next to his house, too. I’m blessed.

  4. Ricky Carvel

    Biddy (what an excellent name, by the way), I do have stamina when it comes to reading the Sherlock Holmes stories – I have read the whole lot now – but it was a poor choice of holiday reading, I read the first 15 or so in two days and hit ‘the wall’ (the reading equivalent of that thing that marathon runners talk about), I had to considerably reduce the rate of reading for a while after that.

    Jayne, I’ve just remembered some of the ‘couch potato’ sessions that SFX put you through. If your brain survived that lot intact, Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t cause too much damage…

    And as for Kakapos, I’ve known about them for years thanks to Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine.

  5. Jayne Nelson

    Couch Potato sessions are great.

    If only for the free pizza.

    I’m easily pleased, me.

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