One adventure leads to another

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Kakapo, Strigops habroptilus. Collection of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha. Gift of Stewart Malcolm Mouat, 1976.

KAKAPO certainly know how to stand out in a crowd.

A bit of an oddball among parrots, this species has the unusual characteristics of being large, flightless and nocturnal.

Sadly this unique and charismatic species also counts critically endangered among its traits, making it the focus of intensive efforts to keep it from extinction.

This particular kakapo takes us far back in time to 1880.

The area around Lake Hakapoua in Fiordland, where it lives, is densely forested and many kakapo can be found in the area (as noted by district surveyor John Hay a few years later in June 1883).

Further to the east we meet two adventurous young Southlanders, Malcolm Mouat (1851-1932) nd Archibald Cameron (1847-1936), who are about to embark on the exploratory expedition which would lead this kakapo into their path.

Born in 1851 in Shetland in the Northern Isles of Scotland, Mouat immigrated to New Zealand in 1874.

Arriving in Bluff, he moved to the Waiau district where he was employed mustering sheep and cattle.

He eventually owned two stations, Woodlands and Braeview.

A fellow Scotsman, (Archie) Cameron was born in Rannoch, Scotland. Upon arriving in Southland he went into partnership with Donald McLaren and had grazing rights at The Hump and in the Princess Mountains area.

Mouat and Cameron met while mustering in 1875 and struck up a friendship. Their trip into Fiordland five years later appears to have been inspired by a friend of Cameron who had travelled from Preservation Inlet to Waiau in the late 1860s, with Cameron being particularly taken by his description of the area near Kakapo Hill.

On the first day of their adventure, they made their way to the Waiau River where they cut a boat 16 feet long out of canvas and sewed it together.

They then set out around the coast, arriving at the mouth of the Wairaurahiri River where they finished their boat and successfully made their first crossing.

Their journey then took them to the Waitutu River and on to Big River, where they used their boat to row to the end of the lake. They climbed to the top of one of the nearby peaks before setting out on the return journey.

This kakapo, along with a Kiwi and a Kiwi chick, were captured on the expedition and subsequently passed down through the Mouat family. All three are preserved at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG).

After many years of quietly educating visitors in the natural history gallery, the kakapo recently attracted some explorers of a different kind included the specimen in a research study looking into how the diet and morphology of our native birds has changed over time and in response to conservation actions.

This research forms part of the ongoing fight to protect the kakapo for future generations.

  • Kimberley Stephenson, SMAG collections manager
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