Monday, April 25, 2011

Extreme Conservation: Kakapo Rescue

How far should we go to save endangered species? How about to save cute, endearing endangered species? In the case of the kakapo, flightless parrots from New Zealand, dedicated rangers and volunteers are going all out to pull the birds back from the extinction precipice they teeter on.

The Cybils Nonfiction (Middle Grade and Young Adult) finalist list led me to Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot, where Sy Montgomery's documents the efforts undertaken to save the fuzzy bird. Montgomery and Nic Bishop traveled to the bottom of the world to spend ten days on the only island where kakapo live, to observe the animals and the people devoted to them.  At the time of the book, only 86, no, 88, no, 87 kakapo survived.  Each chick was assessed many times a day, using video cameras and detectors.  When the mom left the nest to forage, kakapo minders sneaked in with heating blankets to encourage more growth.  If mom showed any signs of carelessness, the rangers whisked the chick to an incubator where people provided round-the-clock care.

Adult kakapo wear tags that allow the rangers to track them daily or weekly, and personalized hoppers of food catered to individual needs get refilled regularly.  Montgomery conveys the dedication, love, and hard work everyone working to save the birds bring to their efforts, and the grief or elation when a chick or adult dies or a new egg hatches.  The text and pictures work well together, although the birds are hard to photograph since they may not be disturbed.  My favorite moment is Montgomery describing Bishop's conflict when they are surprised on a picnic by Sinbad, a ten year old wild kakapo.  This is an amazing, unique chance for pictures, but he can't move quickly or interact overtly with the curious bird.

I did find myself wondering if there is really a viable genetic pool for a real future for the bird, but the book assumes the reader will love the endearing parrot as much as the writers and the volunteers do.  This does read as a kidlit nonfiction; some questions aren't asked and some short cuts are taken.  The account is personal enough that I wanted more pictures of the author and photographer.  

Looking at the web site provided at the end, I see that efforts have gone well -- the population is up to 120, and two islands now sport kakapo.  Their long-term future is still in doubt, though.  B

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