Some 20 odd years ago Douglas Adams and the eminent biologist Mark Cawardine had the idea to go and hunt down six of the most endanged species on earth and document their plight in a book called 'Last chance to See'. Sadly since this was filmed Douglas Adams past away. So did the Yangsi River Dolphin, something we will never have the last chance to see.
Which brings me to 2009: Stephen Fry, who happened to be a good friend of Douglas Adams, decided to team up with Mark Cawardine to go see what happened to the species that Mark and Douglas documented in their book. They shot a TV series called 'Last Chance to Meet', over six episodes, where they went to see the White Rhino, Aye Aye, Blue Whale, Kakapo, Amazon Manatee and the Kamodo Dragon.
Stewart Island Robin; Another endangered speciesI downloaded 'Last Chance To Meet' while I was in the Philippines and watched this over the past few weeks. One particular animal caught my eye as being particular special. It was the Kakapo, a rather charismatic, fat and flightless parrot that once roamed New Zealand. These birds live to be over 100 years old and were so abundant on New Zealands South Island they were was popular as a pie filling and their feathers were used for decorating garments.
However the Kakapo has had the misfortune to have evolved without the need to reproduce like rabbits (the limit to the specifies expansion was only the availbility of food), who average only one egg every four years, when the NZ Rimu trees blossom. They also have no natural predators, so, when something threating comes along, like you or even a stoat, the parrot just sits there looking on with curiosity. Even worse Kakapo have a very distincitve smell ... you can smell one a mile off, well at least a stoat can.
And as many of you know Man arrived a few hundred years ago with Rats, Stoats and Possums. Its was then no small coincidence that Stoats took a liking to a belly full of Kakapo, being a hell of a lot easier to catch than the Rabbits they were brought in to control. Unfortunately the Kakapo did not have a few hundred thousand years to evolve the ability to breed like rabbits, fly away from predators (never mind just fighting or running away) or have body odour that can't be smelt a mile off.
A Weka ... Another of New Zealands flightless ground scavengers
The Kapapo population has since be decimated from hundreds of thousands of birds to just some 60 individuals. But through a stroke of luck the Kakapo had the fortune of being on the brink of extinction at just the right time. After a couple of disastrously public extinctions, the NZ government's Department of Conservation (DOC) had the fortune to find a small breeding population of Kakapo in one valley on Stewart Island after having just pioneered predator free islands. Over the space fo a few years DOC were able to transfer the remaining birds onto to Codfish island, a small Island off Stewart Island on the South of New Zealand. They have since started to thrive again and the population is growing slowly.
Oban, Stewart Island. Your not going to need much in the way of fuel here. Or even a Car mind you.
Which brings me to Stewart Island: We just spent the last three days tramping across stewart island (If you don't know what a tramp is, pay attention). Our aim was to see the Kiwi in the wild, except unlike every other person we met, we didn't have any luck. We heard lots of them mind you; several rummaging in the trackside bushes at night and plenty of kiwis calling at dusk. But I did get the pleasure of sitting on the Beach at Masons bay and looking over to Codfish island, the last stand of the Kakapo, and thinking ... one day we might all have a chance to meet a Kakapo in the wild.
Masons Bay with Codfish Island on Horizon, Left. The last stand of the Kakapo.
Its on this thought that I have to say goodbye to New Zealand. I am off to the Cook Islands and Sarah is off to Australia.
Update 7/1: One male Kakapo was hand raised and is now on Codfish Island. His name is Sirocco and he's a pretty friendly guy apparently. You can find him on facebook under Sirocco Kakapo.