DOC rangers using drones to fly Kākāpō semen to breeding sites

2019-06-11 16:45:14

Whirring above Codfish Islands drones are now flying a special cargo to help boost the population of endangered Kakapos.

It's not quite the mile high club in the traditional sense, and it's probably not that romantic either, but there's no doubt the drones are playing a significant part in boosting the breeding success of the flightless birds. Or, rather, the cargo is.

For more than 10 years, artificial insemination has been used with varying degrees of success to increase the chances of kakapo laying fertile eggs.

This season, DOC rangers are using drones to carry Kākāpō semen collected from males across Codfish Island to speed up the insemination process.

In the past rangers had to tramp across the island to get to the breeding birds, which could take several hours.

DOC science adviser for Kākāpō and Takahē Dr Andrew Digby said with using the drones, they could get to the birds in less than 10 minutes.

The idea came from DOC Kākāpō and Takahē team manager Deidre Vercoe and was refined by the team, he said.

Kākāpō were always looking for new ways to use technology to improve outcomes in the breeding programme, Digby said.

Test flights showed that the semen was not affected during short-term flights.

Civil Aviation Authority rules require that the pilot for a drone must be able to see it at all times so two rangers control the drone, one at both the landing and takeoff points, Digby said.

With a record number of chicks expected this year, rangers have made a big push on using AI to increase the Kākāpō population.

The most successful breeding season where AI was used was in 2009 and the technique has been used since in 2014 and 2016, Digby said.

With funding from Meridian Energy this season DOC has brought in AI experts from Germany to assist with the breeding programme.

Part of the challenge of breeding kakapo is that the fertility rate of the birds is below 50 per cent.

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