I mentioned in my last post that one of the things I was looking forward to was a visit to Zealandia, the wildlife sanctuary in Wellington, to catch a rare opportunity to meet Sirocco the Kākāpō. Who or what is he you may ask…well, he is one of the few remaining members of his species. He is a roaming ambassador, the Official Spokesbird for Conservation and a minor celebrity thanks to his appearance on BBC TV.
He was born in 1997 on Codfish Island, south of the New Zealand mainland. When he was little he suffered from a respitory sickness, and he was hand reared by the rangers on the island. The problem with this was that he became imprinted on humans, and did not associate himself with other kākāpō. Poor Sirocco thought he was a human, and to this day, carries out the mating ritual or ‘booming’ in front of humans instead of the females of his species. However, as a result of this familiarity with humans, it means he is an excellent ambassador for conservation and his species.
Sirocco is at Zealandia in Wellington at the moment, and we went on a really special night visit to meet him. After a really good informative talk and short video, we were guided along the main path, lit by fairy lights, to the enclosure where he was waiting to meet us. Our group was of about 20, and we all went up to say hello to this very special bird. We had been told that if he made a ‘skraaarrk’ sound, it meant he was happy. Well, as we approached the enclosure, he welcomed us in this way. Shortly afterwards, he did this again, clearly happy to see us. Sirocco gave the impression of enjoying being the centre of attention, and he was very much at home with his celebrity status.
Our guides had with them a sample of his poo to sniff. Now, this might sound disgusting, but it had what I can only describe as a light, smokey fragrance not unlike a wood fire. We also got to see and touch some feathers up close.
His keeper answered questions, and tried to tempt him over to a swing so she could weigh him. He has put on quite a bit of weight while being in Wellington, partly due to the breeding season, partly due to being less active. Sirocco was having none of it, preferring to talk to us and eat grapes. At the moment he weighs 2.7kg, and made a good solid thump when he jumped.
The visit lasted an hour, with a good 25 minutes with Sirocco himself. It was such a wonderful experience. Not only did we get to see a kākāpō, we also got to hear a couple of kiwi! This was a real added bonus. It is quite special to be so close to the city centre and hear kiwi.
As we were preparing to leave, Sirocco skraaarrked again, twice. The guides said that was the most they had ever heard for a visiting party. Obviously, he liked us.