It’s the story of a bird alone. A good keen bird, you might say, just not keen enough on the right things.
Sirocco the kakapo became a star in 2009 when he tried to mate with zoologist Mark Carwardine, who was filming a BBC documentary with British actor Stephen Fry. Sadly, this has been typical of Sirocco’s tastes and he hasn’t been terribly successful mating with his own kind. So in a great Kiwi tale of thinking outside the box, rangers working with the endangered parrots tried wearing a “kakapo ejaculation helmet”. If it was a human head that turned him on, well, Te Papa’s Vertebrates Curator Colin Miskelly takes up the story:
“The helmet was part of trying to make use of these over-sexed males and seeing if they could get them to leave their semen on the helmet”.
Well, it was worth a crack, Sirocco.
For Seven Sharp host and bird fancier Jeremy Wells, a dimpled latex helmet was certainly worth the effort, because the kakapo is such ” a beautiful bird… beautiful plummage. You’ve got to say, next level plummage.”
Humans, he says, were a huge blow to their species. Once they were a common sight in New Zealand – apparently in the old days you used to shake trees and out they fell – but they became a staple of the Maori diet and then suffered further when Europeans arrived with stoats and weasels.
As New Zealand children are routinely taught, kakapo were nearly extinct, but they are making a comeback, if a rather fragile one. The effort made to save the bird that Fry described as looking like a Victorian gentleman with sideburns has been massive and the population is nearing 160.
Given New Zealand is a land of birds – a country that before humans hardly knew what a mammal looked like – we could hardly tell the story of New Zealand without a nod to our efforts to save our birdlife from our own sins. And the ejaculation helmet is a suitably ‘just crazy enough that it might work’ sort of idea that seems right at home here. The fact it failed is neither here nor there, it’s the willingness to give it a go that speaks volumes.
Sirocco disappeared in 2016 when his transmitter failed, but was just discovered live and well on and island off Fiordland at the start of February. A bird alone, but still going strong.