Siroccolandia: return of the kākāpō, with Alfie Kākā
I recently had the opportunity to talk to two of my favourite Zealandia conservation staff – Raewyn Empson and Matu Booth – about our impending visit from Sirocco the kākāpō.
Alfie: Rumour on the supplejack vine it that my cousin and good friend “The Big Green Budgie of Love” is coming back for another visit. I’m stoked! When is he arriving?
Raewyn: Sirocco ‘s first public night here is on July 22. He will be here for six weeks [edit: and then he’s off to Orokonui in Dunedin]. He’s visiting much earlier in the season than last time, so that’s nice for our visitors because the tours will start earlier in the evening. There will be four tours a night, every night.
Alfie: What are you doing to ensure his majesty will have a comfortable stay at Zealandia? I hear he is very particular…
Matu: We’ve been busy preparing the rockstar’s winter palace “Siroccolandia”, and making a number of alterations. Our aim is facilitate the environment so that Sirocco has the opportunity to show people what he’s all about. So we’re improving the lighting and sound, and even roofing part of his arena. We’re also giving the perimeter trees a good trim so that he can’t use them to head over the fence and go wandering.
Alfie: What changes will Sirocco notice the most?
Matu: Behind the scenes, he’ll notice that the bush in his enclosure has grown and become lush, so there will be lots of new opportunities for him to forage and explore. All the people interactions will occur down the bottom and the rest of the area will be just for him alone to chill out. We found that the top of the hill was an area he was quite defensive about – in the wild that would be his track-and-bowl area used for booming and attracting the ladies.
Raewyn: We learned a lot from his last visit, and from his visits elsewhere. He responds more if people are moving about rather than sitting, so we’re removing most of the seats and are also adding in an additional window.
Alfie: Great! A bigger mosh pit! And how are you going to deal with his more “temperamental” side? Do the pigeons and bats need to worry about losing their heads Ozzy Osbourne-style?
Matu: Well he does have his quirks that we need to manage, but he’s nowhere near as bad as some rockstars!
Raewyn: And we got lots of excellent advice from animal behaviourist Barbara Heidenreich about how to increase good behaviours and decrease bad ones when she spent some time here with Sirocco and DOC staff before he left last time. Fortunately he’s with us in winter when his hormones won’t be out of control.
Alfie: So what is Sirocco’s most demanding habit?
Matu: That would be begging for food. On his last visit we found that he was rewarded too much for begging, and the treats were a bit big. So he’d end up stuffed full before the end of the evening. (Alfie: Hmmm… reminds me of Elvis in his later years…) He’ll be on far stricter treat rations this time – and will have to earn them.
Alfie: So the rumours are right then? There will be “macadamias for all”?
Matu: There will be a good range of natural food for Sirocco – including kauri cones (if they’re ripe in time) from the good folk at Otari Wilton’s Bush. As for macadamia’s for all, I’m sure if you ask nicely, Sirocco might share…
Alfie: (Sotto voice) yeah right… So how close a relative is he really?
Matu: Well he’s a cousin of sorts, but your ancestor – the “proto-kaka” – lived 80-100 million years ago. So it’s understandable that Sirocco might not want to share his treats with you…
Conservation officer and Sirocco roadie Matu Booth surveys “Siroccolandia” (main image). Photo by Judi Lapsley Miller.
Sirocco earning his rockstar reputation – an entourage wherever he goes. Photo by Jo Moore.
Sirocco tucks in to some breakfast at Zealandia in 2011. Photo by Jo Moore.