10 September 2008

No More Protein!

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), Critically Endangered

The Kakapo is a large ground-dwelling parrot, found only on two small, isolate islands in New Zealand. The total number of birds has risen to 91 in the past year, but this number is still precariously low.

Part of the problem is that Kakapo only lay eggs every three to five years, when Rimu Trees produce an especially large harvest of fruit. When this happens, the Kakapo feast and breed. Scientists have been trying to increase the frequency with which these beautiful birds breed, by supplementing their diets with protein, known to be an important nutrient for other breeding species.

Now, the importance of protein for the Kakapo is being questioned. Professor David Raubenheimer has recently analyzed the nutrient content of the Rimu fruit, and found that it is low in protein and high in calcium. He thinks that calcium may be more important for breeding Kakapo, as it would be used in their eggshells and incorporated into their unusually large skeletons.

Scientists will continue to try and increase the breeding frequency of the Kakapo to boost the population, by using a new formulation of feed that more closely matches the content of the Rimu fruit. One question still remains, however. Is it just the nutrients that are limiting the Kakapo, or are they programmed to breed only when there is an abundance of Rimu fruit?

If you want to help save the Kakapo, you can donate or just become more informed.

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