Last Chance to See: in the footsteps of Douglas Adams

Mar 27th, 2010 by Eugene in Animals

If you watch the video in yesterday’s post, here, most of the way through, you’ll hear Douglas Adams talking about the kakapo, an endangered and quite flightless parrot from New Zealand:

It’s this big, soft, fluffy, lugubrious bird. It’s forgotten how to fly. Sadly it’s also forgotten that it’s forgotten how to fly… So, a seriously worried kakapo has been known to run up a tree and jump out of it… Opinion is divided on what happens next. Some people say it’s developed a rudimentary parachuting ability. Other people say it flies a bit like a brick.

He’s referring throughout that video to his adventures researching one of his best books, Last Chance to See, co-authored with Mark Carwardine, nearly twenty years ago. The BBC have made this book into a new documentary, in which Carwardine returns to re-visit many of the animals from the original book, and I have found at least one clip from it, below.

This is one of the funniest animal videos I have seen in a long time, I won’t spoil it for you.  But bear in mind Adams’ lengthy description of the kakapo mating ritual, from the video:

It turns out that the mating habits of the kakapo are incredibly long and drawn out, and fantastically complicated, and almost entirely ineffective. Some people will tell you that the mating call of the male kakapo actively repels the female kakapo.

For about 100 night of the year it goes through its mating ritual, and it finds some rocky outcrop on which to perform its mating call… It sits there night after night, performing the opening bars of “Dark Side of the Moon”. It’s a very deep bass sound… You more feel it, like a wobble in the pit of your stomach, rather than hear it. These deep bass sounds have two important characteristics: one is they travel great distances: great long, deep bass sound waves fill these great long valleys of the south island of New Zealand. And that’s good. But the other characteristic of bass sounds, which you may be familiar with, if you’ve have a subwoofer you know you can put it anywhere in the room you like, because the other characteristic of bass sounds, and remember we’re talking about a mating call here, is that you can’t tell where it’s coming from.

So just imagine if you will a male kakapo, making all this booming noise, and if there’s a female out there, which there probably isn’t, and she likes the sound, which she probably doesn’t, she can’t find the person who’s making it. And then, even if she finds him, she will only consent to mate if the podokuk tree is in fruit.

Now we’ve all had relationships like that…

All the lightheartedness aside, the kakapo is seriously endangered, even after a hundred years of conservation efforts. Only 123 individuals remain alive. (This is actually an improvement from their lowest point of about 40). The introduction of cats, rats, and stoats to New Zealand, animals which eat the birds and their eggs, has decimated their numbers. Two small islands just off the coast of New Zealand are maintained as predator-free zones  expressly for the purpose of keeping the kakapo refugees safe. Fortunately there’s good dedication in New Zealand to their preservation, and little black market demand for kakapo products, so they may just survive a bit longer.

No Comments