there has been a major breakthrough in the kakapo recovery programme this year: semen specimen were collected earlier last year, and a total of six female kakapo were artificially inseminated, resulting in 2 confirmed successes: two of the fertilized eggs were a direct result of artificial insemination.
AI is especially important because there are a few males who dominate the gene pool of the 124-strong population.
Breakthrough in fight to save kakapo
A major breakthrough in the fight to preserve the critically endangered kakapo has been made, with paternity tests revealing artificial insemination has produced two chicks, the Department of Conservation says.
International bird reproduction specialist Dr Juan Blanco, who helped the Doc kakapo recovery team, believed it was a world first for a wild bird population.
Recovery team manager Deidre Vercoe said the tests confirmed artificial insemination (AI) produced two chicks from two females this breeding season.
“This is a major breakthrough for the recovery programme.”
Infertility as a result of the small size of the kakapo population and inbreeding had been a major problem for the birds on Codfish Island.
In 2005, more than 50% of eggs were infertile.
“Successful AI means we have a tool to improve fertility rates and minimise the loss of genetic diversity within the small but growing kakapo population.”
Six females were inseminated, each with a “cocktail” of sperm from the three male birds who were the least related to them.
In the successful cases, fresh sperm, refrigerated for two to five hours, was used.
“There are several males who dominate the gene pool. Now we can collect sperm from other males and improve their odds of producing offspring,” Ms Vercoe said.
The six birds produced nine chicks, with six produced by natural mating that took place before the insemination, she said.
Two chicks were the result of AI and the paternity of another chick was pending.
As a result of this season’s success, the programme would put an emphasis on using AI with genetic material from Fiordland kakapo, she said.
Attempts to use Fiordland kakapo Richard Henry’s sperm were unsuccessful because of a low sperm count, so they would now try and use sperm from his male offspring, she said.
The team would also continue to work towards using cryopreservation as a management tool as it would enable the genetic material from males to be saved and used after they died.
“The ability to store sperm longer term gives great hope for the ongoing genetic health of the species.”
this summer, unfortunately, a lack of rimu fruit prevented the kakapo from breeding again.
Fruitless summer for kakapo breeding after boom
The Department of Conservation says the campaign to restore kakapo numbers has been held up by a shortage of rimu fruit.
Since 1995, under the Kakapo Recovery Programme, the population of the critically endangered nocturnal ground parrot – found only in New Zealand – has increased from 51 to 124.
Programme manager Deidre Vercoe says that the lack of rimu fruit on Codfish Island, off Stewart Island, and Anchor Island, in Fiordland, signals a non-breeding summer for the world’s rarest parrot.
But in a way that’s a relief, she says, because 2009 was the biggest breeding season ever, with 33 kakapo being born: “We’re all quite exhausted from that,” she says. “We had to hand-rear 26 of them.”
Ms Vercoe hopes kakapo will breed again in 2011.
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