In the late 19th century, Richard Henry laid a blueprint for modern conservation in New Zealand.
BY SABRINA IMBLERFEBRUARY 19, 2020
IN 1893, IN AUCKLAND, NEW Zealand, 48-year-old Richard Henry was going through a peculiar midlife crisis. It wasn’t for any of the usual reasons, such as a failed marriage (though he had one) or a failed career (though he had been chasing a dream job for several years), but rather it was over his obsession with flightless, moss-colored parrots called kākāpōs. Henry had observed the birds’ steep decline after mustelids, such as ferrets and stoats, were introduced to the country, and had spent much of the previous decade trying to convince scientists that the birds were in real danger of going extinct, write Susanne and John Hill in the biography, Richard Henry of Resolution Island. But Henry, who did not have traditional scientific training, went unheard by scientists. On October 3, a deeply depressed Henry attempted to shoot himself twice. The first shot missed and the second misfired, and Henry checked himself into the hospital, where doctors removed the bullet from his skull.
Several months later, Henry got that dream job: caretaker of Resolution Island, an 80-square-mile, uninhabited hunk of rock off southern New Zealand that he hoped to turn into a predator-free sanctuary for kākāpōs and other native birds. For the next 14 years, he toiled away alone on the island in pursuit of this revolutionary conservation idea. He rowed hundreds native birds from the mainland, across choppy waters, to keep them safe from the snapping jaws of furry little predators.