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The kakapo is a flightless parrot native to the island of New Zealand. It’s an oddball of a bird, to say the least. The kakapo can weigh up to eight pounds, and is the only known flightless parrot to exist. It looks sort of like an owl with the feathers around its eyes bent backwards, but it’s neon green in color, and get this: the kakapo is often more sexually attracted to humans than its own species! You read that right. It’s true; the kakapo is often sexually attracted to humans, though the causes aren’t exactly clear.
British actor Steven Fry was witness to the birds’ strange sexual attraction to people. He was filming the documentary Last Chance to See in 2009 when a kakapo became very interested in a zoologist who happened to be present at the time, and began furiously mating with his scalp. A video of the incident went viral on YouTube and has had several million hits since its debut. You can watch it here.
At one point, only about seventy kakapos were left. Now that number is starting to go up a bit. The birds were taken to a predator-free island and were able to breed and live peacefully. Researchers say this move is probably what saved the kakapo population. Vercoe Scott, an expert on the birds, said, "The biggest breakthrough was putting all the birds together on predator-free islands and understanding how they breed while getting over (our) fear of intervening. If we'd taken a hands-off policy we would have lost the kakapo, so we really had to get in there and be quite intense with our management, particularly during the nesting period."
Since the late 1990s, the population numbers of the kakapos have increased to well over a hundred, and that’s definitely good news! Chief scientist of the kakapo’s recovery program, Ron Moorehouse, says "We're certainly more comfortable, but with 126 birds you have to manage the genetics very carefully and that's what we're trying to do, so we retain as much genetic variation in the population as we can.”
So while the kakapos aren’t the common birds they once were, perhaps their comeback is here to stay. These beautiful, unique birds are definitely a part of New Zealand, and I think we’d all be sorry to see them go.
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