May 25

A worthy winner of the World’s Favourite Species campaign, the kakapo clearly has a lot of fans! We thought we would revisit this unusual and charismatic bird as our Endangered Species of the Week – here’s what makes it special…

 

Photo of kakapo walking

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila)

Species: Kakapo (Strigops habroptila)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The kakapo is the largest parrot in the world, and is also the only flightless parrot species.

An extremely rare, nocturnal parrot, the kakapo was once widespread across New Zealand, but is now confined to two predator-free offshore islands. This unusual bird feeds on a variety of fruits, seeds and other plant material and generally lives alone, coming together only to breed. During the breeding season, male kakapos produce a loud ‘boom’ call to attract a mate, which can be heard up to five kilometres away. The kakapo is long-lived but breeds slowly, usually only once every two to five years. When threatened, rather than running away the kakapo freezes, relying on its mossy green, mottled plumage to help it blend into the forest floor.

The kakapo is highly vulnerable to introduced mammalian predators such as cats, dogs and rats. These predators, together with forest clearance and hunting, decimated the kakapo population on the mainland until the drastic step was taken of transporting the last few individuals to predator-free islands. Although the kakapo population remains critically low at 126 individuals, intensive management through a Kakapo Recovery Programme is beginning to show positive results.

Find out more about the kakapo and its conservation at the Kakapo Recovery Programme.

See images and videos of the kakapo on ARKive.

Why not take a look at the other World’s Favourite Species winners – did your favourite make the Top 10?

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 11

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is facing criticism over its plans to use a controversial poison in the habitat of two unique and endangered frog species.

Photo of Archey's frog, dorsal view

Archey’s frog, an unusual and unique New Zealand frog

The poison, known as 1080, is used in New Zealand to eradicate invasive mammals such as possums, rats and stoats, which threaten the country’s native wildlife. Initially developed as an insecticide, 1080 naturally biodegrades in the environment over time and eventually becomes harmless. However, it is highly toxic and has no antidote, and many countries have banned its use.

New Zealand uses 80 to 90% of the world’s 1080, aerially dropping bait laced with the poison. Its use is highly controversial, with critics claiming that it can also kill native species such as birds and frogs.

Unique frogs

The Department of Conservation (DOC) plans to use 1080 on Moehau Mountain, on New Zealand’s North Island. However, one of the main concerns about the planned drop is the potential effects it could have on two unique and endangered frog species, Archey’s frog and Hochstetter’s frog.

Photo of Hochstetter's frog

Hochstetter’s frog is another primitive and unique frog found only in New Zealand

One of only a few surviving species from an ancient frog family, Archey’s frog is considered a ‘living fossil’, with primitive features such as a lack of eardrums or vocal sacs, and muscles to move a tail despite the frog having no tail to move. Unfortunately, this unusual frog is under threat from predation by non-native mammals and by the deadly amphibian disease chytridiomycosis, and is now considered to be Critically Endangered.

Hochstetter’s frog is also a primitive and unique species, and is found in just ten fragmented and isolated populations. Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, it is under threat from chytridiomycosis as well as the destruction of its habitat.

Unclear impacts

It is not known for certain whether 1080 has any impact on frogs. The DOC says that the poison has been used previously in areas of frog habitat and that rather than harming the frogs, it has benefitted them by removing predatory mammals.

Last year DOC started a controlled experiment in the Whareorino forest and dropped 1080 in an area where the frogs (Archey’s and Hochstetter’s) had been well monitored and excluded it from another well-monitored area,” said Phil Bishop, a scientist at the University of Otago. “The data has yet to be fully analysed as its still early days and still being collected, but the results are looking good and the frogs seem to be doing as well if not better in the area that received the 1080 drop.”

Photo of common brushtail possum on tree trunk

The common brushtail possum has been introduced to New Zealand, where it is threatening native wildlife

However, others believe that insects may feed on the poisoned bait, and the frogs may therefore ingest the poison when they eat the insects. There are also fears that 1080 could have less direct impacts, with chronic exposure to the poison potentially making the amphibians more vulnerable to disease or affecting their circulatory or nervous systems. This adds to a growing body of research worldwide showing that the non-lethal effects of pesticides can cause considerable harm to wildlife and humans.

Further fears

There is also concern that native birds could be affected by 1080, although others point out that this threat is outweighed by the benefits to the birds of removing non-native predators. Local people are also concerned for the safety of livestock and pets, with dogs being particularly vulnerable to the lethal effects of the chemical.

Some opponents argue that safer, less controversial pest control measures could be used, and accuse the government of self-interest as they own the factory which produces the 1080 pellets.

Photo of Archey's frog, anterior view

Archey’s frog is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Invasive pest mammals comprise an obvious threat to New Zealand biodiversity. But to dismiss out of hand suggestions that 1080 might harm native species through sublethal physiological effects and thereby contribute to long-term population declines is just foolish,” said Bruce Waldman, an expert on New Zealand’s frogs. “Until we know why Archey’s frogs are dying… we cannot just proceed on the assumption that dangers that they incur by exposure to 1080 drops have been sufficiently mitigated. To do proper studies on 1080′s effects on frogs would not be difficult, so why have they not been done?

Despite the controversy, the DOC has stated that the poison bait drop is still to go ahead, with the aim of saving native frogs and birds from invasive predators.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Saviors or villains: controversy erupts as New Zealand plans to drop poison over Critically Endangered frog habitat.

View photos and videos of amphibian species on ARKive and find out more about endangered amphibians at EDGE of Existence – Amphibians.

Find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 24
Photo of North Island brown kiwi in undergrowth

North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)

Species: North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The North Island brown kiwi is more like a mammal than a bird, with fur-like feathers, muscular legs and even cat-like whiskers on its face.

Kiwis are the national bird of New Zealand, and are some of the most unusual of all birds. One of five kiwi species, the North Island brown kiwi is flightless and lives on the ground, where it shelters in a burrow during the day. Its long, thin bill has sensory pits at the end which can detect prey moving underground, while, uniquely among birds, the nostrils are located at the end of the bill, helping the kiwi to locate prey by smell. North Island brown kiwis typically mate for life, and the female produces one of the largest eggs of any bird relative to her own size. The male incubates the eggs, and the chicks hatch fully feathered and are soon able to fend for themselves.

The North Island brown kiwi has undergone a dramatic decline over the last century, largely due to predation by introduced mammals such as dogs, cats and stoats. Fortunately, this intriguing bird has been the subject of concerted conservation efforts, including predator control and the incubation of eggs and rearing of chicks in captivity. Kiwi sanctuaries have also been established to help protect it. Where active conservation has taken place, kiwi numbers have rebounded, giving hope that this national icon can survive into the future.

Find out more about kiwi conservation at Kiwis for Kiwi.

Read about other nocturnal species and about WWF’s Earth Hour on the ARKive blog.

See images and videos of the North Island brown kiwi on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite species? Why not join our campaign to find the World’s Favourite Species and nominate it today!

 

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

About

RSS feedArkive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of Arkive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

Arkive twitter