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The kakapo -- unsaveable?
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amyasleighOffline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 09:33    Post subject: The kakapo -- unsaveable? Reply with quote

Am hoping that the article reproduced here, may be admissible, although it concerns a creature whose existence is not in doubt, and which is (just) still with us. (Here in “Cryptozoology” there is, after all, a thread about the British red squirrel – a species very much still in existence.)

Article found on another site: dated 13/4/2011, from the New Zealand newspaper the “Manawatu Standard” – concerning the kakapo or N.Z. owl parrot.


“It might not be worth trying to save the kakapo, the critically endangered native bird that has been on the brink of extinction for decades, an Australian scientist says. Instead, resources should go into saving species that have more chance of recovering and surviving in the evolving environment.

‘It’s a wonderfully weird creature and it’s a shame that we will probably lose it regardless of any interventions. Harsh, but somebody’s got to say it,’ said Cory Bradshaw, of the University of Adelaide’s directorate of ecological modelling.

Using a mathematical formula, Professor Bradshaw and colleagues from Adelaide and James Cook University, in northern Queensland, created a new index called SAFE (Species’ Ability to Forestall Extinction), which ranks the probability of animals becoming extinct based on population. The index goes a step further than the Red List of Threatened Species, produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which ranks animals and plants in categories from safe to critically endangered.

‘It really comes down to accounting, are we deliberately or inadvertently losing hundreds if not thousands of species by putting money into species that are a lost cause? That doesn’t mean we go out and knock every one on its head, though,’ Professor Bradshaw said.

Other endangered animals that could be left to die off because of unsustainable population levels, according to the index, include Australia’s hairy-nosed wombat and the Javan rhinoceros. The [N.Z.] Conservation Department [DOC] said it would look at the merits of the index but said it would continue to support the Kakapo Recovery Programme. ‘DOC is very proud of the work that’s been done to save the kakapo and we’ve no intention of letting them go,’ spokesman Chris Pitt said.

Kakapo have taken decades to save from ‘dangling on the cliff of extinction’, Forest & Bird conservation advocate Nicola Vallance said. The programme, based on several small islands, has rejuvenated the number of kakapo from 50 in 1995 to 120. ‘I think any New Zealander would say they’re absolutely worth protecting,’ Ms. Vallance said.

DOC spent nearly $39 million on threatened species programmes in the year ending June 30, 2010. Twenty native birds are extinct and 77 are threatened – made up of 24 critical, 15 endangered and 38 vulnerable birds.

Professor Bradshaw, who encountered kakapo while studying at Otago Univesity, said any animal with a population below 5000 had a greater risk of extinction because they could be wiped out by extreme events such as cyclones or forest fires. He admitted the concept was unpopular but the index would assist ‘conservation triage’ – prioritising the species that should be saved.

Massey University’s Doug Armstrong, who specialises in conservation biology, said there had to be a ‘trade-off’ when picking what animals to save but it was not up to scientists to make this decision. It was up to New Zealanders and, in some circumstances, iwi [this expression inferred to refer to the Maori] , which had a special connection to certain species, to weigh up the benefits, cost and value of saving an endangered animal. ‘I would be very hesitant to write off species just because they have low numbers,’ Professor Armstrong said. “
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gncxxOffline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 15:39    Post subject: Reply with quote

A kakapo was responsible for one of the funniest bits of last year's TV, so it would be sad if they allowed it to go, but sometimes you have to admit you're fighting a losing battle. Doesn't mean the fight wasn't worth the try, of course.
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oldroverOffline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 16:56    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally I find this disturbing. I understand that budgets are finite, but still it seems a bit scary that someone decides what is and isn’t worth saving.
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rynner2Offline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 19:05    Post subject: Reply with quote

oldrover wrote:
Personally I find this disturbing. I understand that budgets are finite, but still it seems a bit scary that someone decides what is and isn’t worth saving.

Why pour money that could be better used down the drain? If we waste too much money on species that are effectively doomed, we have less to spend on those that could be saved. Just because something is really cute to human eyes doesn't give it a higher value on Mother Nature's scale of things than some repulsive-looking creepy-crawley.

Sometimes we have to be grown-up, and recognise when it's time to turn off the life-support machine.
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oldroverOffline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 20:29    Post subject: Reply with quote

Of course you're right. It's just that I wonder how accurate you can be predicting whether it is worth persevering or not. How many times has a species been declared extinct, indicating population estimates are almost zero, for them to pop up again years later. Meaning we've got the capacity to badly miscalculate.
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MythopoeikaOffline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 21:09    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think we should concentrate on saving species that are being wiped out by humans or an invading species.
There are a lot of other species that are dying out naturally. I don't think anything can be done about these.
I remember when I worked at the RSPB, I had one or two interesting conversations about some bird species we were trying to save. Some species were in danger from humans who collected the eggs and stole the birds, while others were just dying out because they didn't breed fast enough to keep up their population numbers (e.g. Black Grouse, which have a protracted mating ritual).
It really would be a major shame if these creatures disappeared, but I think it is bordering on the impossible for us to save species that have ended up in an evolutionary cul-de-sac.
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rynner2Offline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 21:10    Post subject: Reply with quote

oldrover wrote:
It's just that I wonder how accurate you can be predicting whether it is worth persevering or not. How many times has a species been declared extinct, indicating population estimates are almost zero, for them to pop up again years later. Meaning we've got the capacity to badly miscalculate.

Well, we do the best we can, and sometimes we get it wrong. There's no way to take out insurance on such things.

As the philosopher said "Shit happens!"

And millions of species have gone extinct even before humans came along, but life still survives and thrives, and will do so long after we ourselves are gone. Humanity itself is supposed to have passed through an 'evolutionary bottleneck' at one time - we might have become extinct, but by chance we survived and multiplied.

Animals that have survived in recent times are those that live with humans, either as farm animals or pets.

So, domesticate the kakapo, make them pets like other parrots, if their survival is so essential. Cool
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MythopoeikaOffline
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 21:23    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part of the reason this parrot is dying out is the complex and protracted mating ritual (called a lek). It's the same problem as with the Black Grouse. Rolling Eyes
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 23:02    Post subject: Reply with quote

Firstly I couldn’t agree more with that point. Ecosystems change and the first up against the wall are likely to be the specialists. Also I can’t understand why human impact is supposed to be an inherently bad thing. Humans are animals with just as much right to live and expand their territories as any other animal, and bring other species which they depend on with them. From that perspective you could say a parrot with these characteristics; flightlessness, strong scent and habit of freezing when threatened; was asking for it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakapo

Quote:
Just because something is really cute to human eyes doesn't give it a higher value on Mother Nature's scale of things than some repulsive-looking creepy-crawley.


Absolutely true, but conservation and mother nature’s scale of things aren’t the same things at all. I think Mother Nature would be more concerned with cornerstone species whereas we’re more concerned with saving the appealing and spectacular. If the Kakapo’s disappeared tomorrow, New Zealand would still be there the day after, so would China without the panda, India without the tiger, Africa without the mountain gorilla and so on, the same way Britain has managed quite nicely without wolves, bears and lynx. Yet people are still compelled to protect these species. Doesn’t that suggest that conservation is an emotively driven issue, and if so does rationalisation have a place in it at all?

Also from a pragmatic point of view I don’t think it makes much sense, as so much conservation work is charity supported. A lot of people aren’t going to care enough to pay to protect it, unless it’s got an adorable teddy face or is capable of ripping your insides out. This born out by the adverts and emblems of the conservation organisations, which tend to feature higher sympathetic animals. While I’m sure they work to protect all manner of less marketable species, the money to so was probably raised by someone with a smiley dolphin logo on their T-shirt.

As you say can’t get insurance for such things, but happily you don’t need it if you choose not to run the risk you’re trying to offset.

Quote:
So, domesticate the kakapo, make them pets like other parrots, if their survival is so essential.


No way they smell.
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PostPosted: 05-05-2011 23:55    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm surprised by this. I've followed the fight to save the kakapo with interest and my understanding was that it had so far been reasonably successful. Numbers are still terrifyingly low but much higher than a decade ago.

Quote:
Ecosystems change and the first up against the wall are likely to be the specialists. Also I can’t understand why human impact is supposed to be an inherently bad thing. Humans are animals with just as much right to live and expand their territories as any other animal


The issue is the unprecendented rate of human population increase over the last 60 years. It has knocked things out of kilter and risks pushing ecosystems beyond the point of no return - look, for example, at the collapse of fish stocks around the world. If we want a world worth living in then we need to slow and ideally reverse this increase. I don't see how anothe 3 billion people in the next 20 years is remotely sustainable.
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amyasleighOffline
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PostPosted: 06-05-2011 06:30    Post subject: Reply with quote

I see some sense in the professor's notion of "conservation triage" (though as oldrover indicates, "the likely success of the cutest" is in play, re the big role of private donations). However, I have a fair amount of emotional investment in the kakapo. Have been captivated by this creature, ever since reading the marvellous chapter about it in "Last Chance to See..." by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine -- account of a quite wonderfully, endearingly incompetently vulnerable and hopeless species which in strict Darwinian terms, absolutely does not deserve to survive.

I'd be eager to see conservationists fight tooth and nail to keep the kakapo in existence (and would give money toward that undertaking); even were it to be a long-drawn-out losing battle, involving just a tiny handful of the birds on remote offshore islands.
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oldroverOffline
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PostPosted: 06-05-2011 12:46    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm surprised by this. I've followed the fight to save the kakapo with interest and my understanding was that it had so far been reasonably successful. Numbers are still terrifyingly low but much higher than a decade ago.


The article says that in the last 16 years their numbers have increased by 240%, I wondered whether there wasn't an element of parrot kicking just to grab a headline.

Quote:
conservation triage


I still feel uncomfortable with this. At least using this type of model, not least because of the differing views cited in this instance between the modelers and the conservationists on the ground.
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Dr_Baltar
PostPosted: 06-05-2011 14:47    Post subject: Reply with quote

oldrover wrote:
I understand that budgies are finite...


True, but these are parrots.
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oldroverOffline
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PostPosted: 06-05-2011 15:28    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes but they are green.
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MythopoeikaOffline
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PostPosted: 06-05-2011 20:15    Post subject: Reply with quote

oldrover wrote:
Also from a pragmatic point of view I don’t think it makes much sense, as so much conservation work is charity supported. A lot of people aren’t going to care enough to pay to protect it, unless it’s got an adorable teddy face or is capable of ripping your insides out. This born out by the adverts and emblems of the conservation organisations, which tend to feature higher sympathetic animals. While I’m sure they work to protect all manner of less marketable species, the money to so was probably raised by someone with a smiley dolphin logo on their T-shirt.


This is pretty much true. The Kakapo is quite cute (regardless of its smell), so I think people will fight hard to stop it dying out.
Perhaps the only way to stop the decline is to move a lot of them to an island with no predators and then let them get on with it.
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