Chicks born by artificial insemination offer new hope for the endangered kākāpō.
BY ISAAC SCHULTZJULY 19, 2019
Kākāpō's recovery has been slow but steady.
IT’S HARD OUT THERE FOR a kākāpō. These famously adorable and unusual parrots—chunky, flightless, nocturnal—are one of the many critically endangered species in New Zealand, but efforts to increase their population have been slow-going.
Kākāpōs once had no natural predators, but now must deal with rats, cats, stoats, and possums. The country is trying to eradicate these predators and help the unusual bird come back from its mid-1990s low of just 52 individuals, but encouraging kākāpōs to breed is an uphill battle. The birds mate only every several years, with the fruiting of the rimu, a native tree. On top of that, they’re plagued with defective sperm and high rates of infertility. Now, for the first time in a decade, the country’s Kākāpō Recovery Team announced successful artificial insemination (of three female birds, resulting in two chicks), a major breakthrough in staving off extinction.
Even though scientists have the genomes of every known individual, which helps them match up suitable breeding pairs, kākāpōs just don’t seem like they’re on board with the plan.
“Females are quite choosy. They want the best males with the best genes,” says Nicolas Dussex, a researcher with the Swedish Museum of Natural History.* “So you can’t force them to mate with a less than ideal male.”