Pair meet notable kakapo namesake

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DEIDRE Vercoe has had the ultimate holiday experience — visiting renowned natural historian Sir David Attenborough at his London home two weeks ago.
The Department of Conservation (Doc) kakapo recovery operations manager and her partner Dr Andrew Digby, who is a scientist with the programme, spent 90 minutes with Sir David, updating him on efforts to save the endangered native parrots and this year’s bumper crop of chicks.
Ms Vercoe said Sir David, who is 90, ‘‘blew her away’’.
‘‘It was great to meet him. He was very genuine — very interested in what we were doing.’’
The visit came after Ms Vercoe wrote to him saying a kakapo chick was going to be named after him to honour his ‘‘huge contribution’’ to natural history and conservation.
‘‘I said we were going to be on holiday in the United Kingdom and he wrote back and invited us to meet him.’’
They gave him a book on kakapo and he wrote a note to staff and volunteers thanking them for their work and saying ‘‘what a joy, delight and wonder kakapo brought to the whole world’’.
The note had been framed and hung on a wall, Ms Vercoe said.
During their holiday she and Dr Digby also gave a public talk at Cambridge University, focusing on the new technologies used in the kakapo programme such as smart transmitters which record breeding information and smart feeding stations which allow nominated birds to feed and lock others out.
Kakapo are only found in New Zealand. Once abundant, there were only 51 remaining when the recovery programme was established in 1977, almost all of them living on Stewart Island.
Now there are 156, 123 adults and 33 newly-fledged adolescents born this season.
The two main breeding sanctuaries are Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, in Foveaux Strait, and Anchor Island, Dusky Sound, southwest Fiordland.
Ms Vercoe said kakapo had been on Anchor Island for 10 years and this was the first season chicks had been born there, with 21 of the 22 adult females on the island breeding.
What was even more exciting was four of this year’s chicks had ‘‘Fiordland genes’’, she said. Their mother is Kuia and their grandfather was a bird called Richard Henry, discovered in Fiordland in 1975 and believed to have been the last surviving ‘‘mainland’’ kakapo when he died in 2010 aged about 80.
‘‘Having four Kuia offspring means we retain some of that important Fiordland genetic diversity,’’ Ms Vercoe said.

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