...leaving behind a small scratched depression in the earth and a single, elderly untouched sweet potato.
January 12, 2011 11:33 PM   Subscribe

Richard Henry has died. "The bird was originally discovered in Fiordland in 1975 when kakapo were believed to be extinct. [...] Richard Henry played a vital role by offering genetic diversity to the breeding programme, which now numbers 121 birds"; Kakapo, memorably described by Douglas Adams as the "world's largest, fattest and least-able-to-fly parrot", are not the only New Zealand bird brought back from the brink (and Don Merton features in many of their stories, as well as others farther abroad).

Kakapo were memorably
posted by rodgerd (25 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Richard Henry led me to my present career. I read "Last Chance to See" in high school, and the chapter on the Kakapo moved me to tears. I decided I needed to be some sort of environmental scientist, ecologist, someone working for conservation. And now, here I am, with a PhD in ecology, and while my present work doesn't deal directly with species conservation, I will always remember the Kakapo, and the importance of preserving our biodiversity.
posted by Jimbob at 11:59 PM on January 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


He did seem to leave some friendly descendants.
posted by roquetuen at 12:00 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

What a great post. Thank you.
posted by LarryC at 12:15 AM on January 13, 2011


Jimbob, that's a great story - I think Last Chance to See is my favourite book, and that's my favourite chapter. You're my new hero
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:18 AM on January 13, 2011

Sorry to see the portly ol' codger go.

posted by quazichimp at 12:24 AM on January 13, 2011


Richard Henry was awesome, and a legend.
posted by tracicle at 12:29 AM on January 13, 2011

Kakapo were, memorably. And still are, thankfully.
posted by pracowity at 12:40 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

see also saddlebacks. I'm often asked for recommendations on things to see in New Zealand, and I always recommend Tiritiri island bird sanctuary, the only place I've seen most of New Zealand's rare birds.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 12:40 AM on January 13, 2011

Kakapo were memorably what?!

Unable to correctly use the preview.
posted by rodgerd at 1:42 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sad, yet hopeful. Sad because it reminds me of DNA, hopeful because the kakapo lives on.
posted by tommasz at 2:24 AM on January 13, 2011

I could say it again: 'Last Chance to See' is a really interesting book.
posted by ovvl at 4:35 AM on January 13, 2011

Dear beautiful bird.

posted by Wolof at 5:02 AM on January 13, 2011

posted by Splunge at 5:51 AM on January 13, 2011

posted by Tuatara at 7:14 AM on January 13, 2011

This post is a fave, if for no other reason that it may hopefully expose 1 or 2 more people to 'Last Chance to See.' Douglas Adams is understandably popular due to the Hitchhiker's Guide series, but he really became a personal favourite to me after reading that book.
posted by antifuse at 8:53 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

5_13_23_42_69_666: "I think Last Chance to See is my favourite book, and that's my favourite chapter."

From my Starship Titanic post, here's a video + transcript of "Parrots, the Universe, and Everything," a lengthy talk Adams gave about the book. He discusses the kakapo specifically:
Anyway, in fact my favourite of all the animals we went to see, my favourite, was an animal called the Kakapo. And the Kakapo is a kind of parrot. It lives in New Zealand. It’s a flightless parrot, it has forgotten how to fly. Sadly, it has also forgotten, that it has forgotten how to fly. (Laughter.) So, a seriously worried Kakapo has been known to run up a tree and jump out of it. (Laughter.) Opinion divides as to what next happens, (laughter) some people said it has developed a kind of rudimentary parachuting ability, (laughter) other people says it flies a bit like a brick. (Laughter.)

But the thing is—I might talk about a seriously worried Kakapo—the fact is you’re not likely to find a seriously worried Kakapo because Kakapos have not learned to worry. (Laughter.) It seems an extraordinary thing to say because worrying is something we’re all so terribly good at, and which comes so absolutely naturally to us, we think it must be as natural as breathing. But it turns out that worrying is simply an acquired habit like anything else. It’s something you’re genetically disposed to do or not to do. And the thing is that the Kakapo grew up in New Zealand which was, until man arrived, a country which had no predators. And it’s predators, that over a series of generations, will teach you to worry. (Laughter.) And if you don’t have predators then the need to worry will never occur to you.


So the Kakapo, as I say, had grown up in an environment without predators. And because they were all birds, and because nature has a way—as I say—very opportunistic and life will flow into any niche where it’s possible to make a living, so—if I can be very naughty and anthropomorphise for a moment—it’s as if some of the birds figured out, “Well, this flying stuff is very very expensive. It takes a lot of energy, you have to eat a bit, fly a bit, eat a bit, fly a bit, because every time you eat something—you know—you weight down and it’s heavier to fly, so eat a bit, fly a bit—I mean—there are other ways of life available.” And so is as if some of the birds said, “Well, actually what we could do is we could settle in for a rather larger meal, and go for a waddle afterwards!” (Laughter.)

And so gradually over many many generations a lot of the birds lost the ability to fly, they took up life on the ground. The Kiwi, the most famous bird—I guess—of New Zealand, and the Weka, and the old night parrot—as it was called—the Kakapo. Which is this sort of big, fat, soft, fluffy, lugubrious bird. (Laughter.) And because it has never learned to worry, when man arrived and brought with him his deadly menagerie of dogs, and cats, and stoats, and the most destructive of all animals–other than man—which is Rattus rattus, the ship’s rat. Suddenly, suddenly these birds were waddling for their lives. (Laughter.) Except in fact they didn’t know how to do that because they were confronted with an animal which was a predator, they didn’t know what to do, they didn’t know what the social form was, they just waited for the other animal to make the next move, and of course—as usually—a fairly swift and deadly one. (Laughter.)
He goes on about it for quite awhile, way to much to quote, but it's definitely worth reading/listening.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:58 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Last Chance to See is a wonderful book, and this has reminded me that I've been meaning to watch the more recent BBC TV series. Thanks for the post.
posted by pemberkins at 10:35 AM on January 13, 2011

Kakapo love 'Last Chance to See' too.
posted by Paragon at 2:24 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by teferi at 2:32 PM on January 13, 2011

Aw, what cute little fellas - I'd never heard of them before.

In their total lack of attacking & defensive capability, they'd make a great mascot for the Aussie cricket team.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:49 PM on January 13, 2011

posted by monster truck weekend at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2011

Bye bye Richard Henry. We are better for you. Fly in peaceful skies.
posted by chance at 4:38 PM on January 13, 2011

Shagged by a rare parrot - Last Chance To See, featuring Stephen Fry.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:22 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fly in peaceful skies

I think you mean waddle in peaceful woods
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2011

"Waddle in peaceful forests, hey bro"
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:18 AM on January 15, 2011

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