Behold the Return of the Amazing New Zealand “Owl Parrot.” Look at It Dance!

The kākāpō, the world’s fattest parrot, has long been on the verge of extinction. Now it’s making a comeback.

Kākāpō Recovery/New Zealand Government

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It’s Sunday, and before we begin another long week, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate some good news we discovered after going down a fascinating recent Twitter hole: the kākāpō, the world’s fattest parrot, long on the verge of extinction, is making a glorious comeback.

Fluffy and flightless, these adorable-looking birds are native to New Zealand and evolved without any mammalian predators, which made them particularly horrible at fending off the cats, rats, and stoats that eventually arrived with European settlers in the early 1800s. By 1900, despite a conservation effort launched by the government, only a few kākāpō remained, according to the country’s conservation department.

Starting in the late 1940s, New Zealand launched missions to locate and preserve the birds, but by the 1970s none were thought to exist. Then, in 1977, a large population of about 200 were found in southern Rakiura, but soon they too were attacked by feral cats. Rats kept eating the baby kākāpō, and by 1995 there were only 51 of the birds left.

The next year, the Kākāpō Recovery Program was launched to keep the parrots from teetering closer toward extinction. It’s a difficult goal, partly because the kākāpō only breed when rimu trees, which produce berries, are full of fruit, which doesn’t happen every year.

And so the recovery team has gone to creative lengths to help them mate: After a kākāpō named Sirocco went viral for attempting to have sex with a zoologist’s head, the team even created a helmet that could collect semen, an experiment that failed to boost the population but successfully garnered more social media buzz around the birds.

In recent years, the number of kākāpō has increased, but they aren’t out of the woods yet: This year they’ve been battling a fatal fungal disease that had killed at least seven as of June, and 36 more (about a fifth of the population) were sent to veterinary hospitals for evaluation.

But the birds are fighters, and this weekend they hit an important milestone: Andrew Digby, a scientific adviser for the recovery effort, tweeted that there are now 200 kākāpō, after the latest chick became a juvenile, old enough to officially be counted. 

There are probably more kākāpō alive now than at any time for ≥70 years,” he wrote. To celebrate the occasion, enjoy this video of Sirocco getting wild, and other cute photos of kākāpō young and old.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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