Since he was just a tiny hatchling Sirocco was a classic stereotype of his endangered species. A vulnerable and weak baby born in a human controlled environment, he was meant to represent the struggle of the kakapo. His story embodies the fight for the survival of these magnificent parrot species and his love and acceptance of the human company allow him to be a fantastic spokesperson for the cause of kakapo population recovery. But before we meet the star of this article, we should first get to know the kakapo parrots in general.
What is a kakapo?
The kakapo is a big, flightless parrot that is endemic to New Zealand. It is a nocturnal animal and kakapo actually means night parrot in the Maori language. They are large species that weight around 2 kg (4.4lb) on average which makes them the heaviest living species of parrots. It is predominantly green with a tint of yellow coloring. Kakapos have a great sense of smell that they use in their search for the right food, a behavior only exhibited by one other parrot species.
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Why are they endangered?
The main reason for the decline of the kakapo population was a human influence. Maori hunted this bird for food and clothing. Given its flightless nature kakapo was an easy prey for the Maori and their activities reduced the habitat range for kakapo. The arrival of European settlers further reduced their habitat by clearing a vast portion of land for farming. The final blow to this amazing species was the introduction of mammals such as weasels and ferrets to reduce the rabbit population, causing irreparable damage to kakapos used to only bird predators of New Zealand.
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Sirocco was born in 1997 on Codfish Island and from the very beginning had an uncertain future. He suffered from a respiratory illness at three weeks old so he was taken from his mother, Zephyr to the Department of Conservation where rangers took care of him. This way he became the first male kakapo to be hand-raised. After they have helped him recover he was released back to the wild, but it was soon obvious that he had been imprinted on humans and thus an unlikely candidate to become a successful breeding bird.
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The famous encounter with BBC crew
Sirocco’s true status of a bird rock star was confirmed in 2009. BBC series Last Chance to See that focused on the worldwide endangered species came to the Codfish Island to film Sirocco as a true representative of the kakapo population. While Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine were filming Sirocco, the bird jumped onto Carwardine's head in an attempt to mate with him. This video was later uploaded to YouTube and received over 700,000 views just the first week.
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Changing Sirocco’s mating behavior
This “incident” gave Sirocco a worldwide popularity, but it also showed for sure that he has a problem with his mating behavior. Since there are only little more than a hundred kakapos left in the world, it is important to try and teach Sirocco to redirect his attraction from people’s heads to female kakapo. That is why Sirocco is being trained to accept the fact that he is indeed a parrot and not human.
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Sirocco on social media
Like every true star in this world, Sirocco also has a large social media fan base. His booming popularity after the famous encounter with BBC crew spurred his Facebook and Twitter accounts and ever since then he has amassed a huge following. His twitter posts are not called twits, but rather booms or skraaarks since those are some of the sounds kakapos make when they communicate. His internet fame was additionally confirmed with a well-known party parrot GIF.
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The official Spokesbird
Sirocco's popularity massively raised the profile of kakapo around the world, so the government of New Zealand decided in 2010 to appoint Sirocco as an Official Spokesbird for Conservation. The Prime Minister of New Zealand who appointed Sirocco to his new position said that he is a very media friendly bird with a worldwide fan base and a great ambassador of New Zealand.
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Sirocco on tour
Like a real superstar that he is, Sirocco started touring New Zealand in September 2011. He first visited Orokonui Ecosanctuary, close to Dunedin, before he a stayed at ZEALANDIA, in Wellington, where more than 2000 people came to see him in person. In 2012, Sirocco also visited Maungatautari, near Hamilton and much like any other famous celebrity he has special demands from his hosts that must be met in order to secure his health and general wellbeing.
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What is done to help the kakapo?
In 1989, a Kakapo Recovery Group was established to implement a recovery program. The first action was to relocate all the remaining kakapo to suitable islands where they could breed. Four islands were chosen and sixty-five kakapos were successfully transferred. A key part of this plan is the supplementary feeding of females that increases their breeding frequency since kakapos breed only once every two to five years, usually when a certain type of plant species that produce protein-rich fruit and seeds emerge. Today there are around 130 kakapos left and all of them have names.
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