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.
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.
In the whole world. Think about it.
“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.