Sirocco appointed ‘spokesbird’ for conservation
29 Jan 2010
New Zealand’s celebrity parrot, Sirocco the kākāpō, has been officially appointed as the world’s first “spokesbird for conservation”.
Sirocco shot to fame last year after his inappropriate actions during the BBC’s Last Chance to See series, and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says the notorious and rare bird will be a perfect conservation ambassador.
Sirocco – now 13-years-old – is one of just 124 kākāpō left in the world. The flightless species is endemic to New Zealand.
Mr Key formally named Sirocco as official spokesbird during the launch of New Zealand’s involvement in the International Year of Biodiversity, and in recognition of the famous kākāpō’s own celebrity status.
Sirocco’s task will be to highlight New Zealand’s endemic wildlife experiences and conservation work.
‘Last Chance to See’
The kākāpō’s appearance with British media personality Stephen Fry on Last Chance to See featured an incident where Sirocco made an unusual mating attempt with presenter Mark Carwadine.
The quirky footage had more than half a million hits on YouTube, and sent social networking sites buzzing with comments from amused observers.
The result was a huge rise in the popularity of the rare species, and interest from people wanting to know more about New Zealand’s unique native wildlife.
Prime Minister Key says Sirocco’s status made him an obvious choice for the role.
“He’s very media-savvy, he’s got a world-wide fan base – they hang on every squawk that comes out of his beak. He’ll be a great official spokesbird and a great ambassador for New Zealand,” he said.
Mr Key said Sirocco would lift the attention and recognition of the plight of endangered species, which like other countries was a big issue for New Zealand.
“Sirocco can speak very loudly on this topic and by the end of this campaign people will be a lot more aware of what’s going on,” Mr Key said.
New Zealand’s biodiversity
Commenting on Sirocco’s appointment, New Zealand Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said: “New Zealand is home to the world’s only flightless and nocturnal parrot, the last surviving member of a dinosaur family and the world’s smallest marine dolphin – we have so much unique native wildlife in every nook and cranny across the country. This is our biodiversity to protect and Sirocco can help spread that message.
“We’re justifiably proud of our natural living space and our reputation as a destination where people can experience amazing wildlife, landscapes and wilderness.
“I have every confidence that Sirocco’s natural charm and charisma will encourage people to become more engaged with conserving New Zealand’s natural heritage.”
A new website created jointly by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Tourism New Zealand has also been unveiled, to help profile the on-going work of protecting New Zealand’s unique wildlife and plants.
The spokesbird.com website will allow people to interact with Sirocco and view his regular blog updates as well as videos, photographs and links to his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The International Year of Biodiversity was launched at a ceremony in Berlin with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel warning the world will face “enormous costs” if no action is taken against securing biodiversity.
She said the world is facing a global extinction crisis which threatens not only the natural environment but mankind itself as all life on earth depends upon species, ecosystems and natural resources.
NZ’s 100th kākāpō
While Sirocco enjoys celebrity status, New Zealand’s 100th kākāpō has officially been named “Te Atapo”.
New Zealand conservationist Don Merton, who was given the honour of naming the kākāpō, said he chose Te Atapo because it means “the dawn after the night”.
Merton who has worked extensively with the kākāpō recovery programme said the name came to him immediately.
“The 100th kākāpō symbolises the dawning of new hope – a brighter future after an unprecedented dark episode in kākāpō history,” Merton said.
There were only 51 known kākāpō in 1995 but today, thanks to extensive conservation efforts by a dedicated team, the number has risen to 124.
The 100th kākāpō hatched during an outstanding 2009 breeding season that produced 33 chicks.
The 33 chicks have been transferred to sanctuary islands in southern New Zealand – 23 to Whenua Hou / Codfish Island, just off Stewart Island, and 10 to Anchor Island in Fiordland. All are doing well and settling in to their new home.