Are Kakapo Endangered? (5 Reasons Why)

Last Updated on February 22, 2023 by Ali Shahid

Kakapo is nocturnal, heavy parrots native to New Zealand and are also known as owl parrots due to their unmistakable faces. We know that many parrot species are endangered. But are kakapo endangered?

With only 24 individuals, the kakapo is a critically endangered species. In 1995, only 57 kakapo birds remained, leading to the establishment of a kakapo recovery program. The history of the kakapo is a tale of despair, hope, and drama.

Before humans arrived in New Zealand, there was an abundance of kakapo. Several factors contributed to the rapid decline in population numbers, including hunting, the introduction of predators, and land clearing.

In breeding, infertility and a fungus infection (Aspergillosis) are also factors contributing to the sharp decline in Kakapo populations. However, the future of New Zealand’s flightless parrot appears bright with the Kakapo recovery program.

5 Reasons Why Kakapo Are Endangered?

1. Used in Maori Culture

Sadly, kakapo numbers declined with the arrival of the Maori. It is believed that the Kakapo played an important role in the legends and folklore of the Maori people. There were even some that were kept as pets.

Furthermore, their feathers and skins were used for clothing, and they were heavily hunted for their meat. They cleared forests to build homes and farms, which reduced the range of kakapo.

2. Predators

It was easy for hunters to take advantage of the flightless parrots. When threatened, their tactic of freezing proved effective in defending themselves from birds of prey, but in the case of humans and their dogs, it proved ineffective.

Several predatory animals, including large cats, stoats, and rats, threatened these kakapos and ate their chicks and eggs. The first mammal predators on the islands were rats that escaped ships, eating eggs and chicks, reducing populations even more.

Since these parrots cannot fly, they are especially vulnerable to predators with keen senses of smell.

3. European settlers

Before European colonists arrived in the nineteenth century, the species had become extinct in most regions. However, local populations remained abundant. Europeans cleared more land for farming and grazing, further reducing livestock habitats.

When Europeans became aware of the kakapo, they hunted them for food as well as for scientific purposes. Thousands of kakapo were captured or killed for the purpose of being kept in zoos, museums, or by collectors.

Scientists realized the kakapo were on their way to extinction in the late nineteenth century. As a result, people began to attempt to preserve them, but they were not successful.

4. Infertility

Furthermore, they are notoriously difficult to breed due to their low fertility. There is an increase in inbreeding as a result of the decrease in the number of their population. As a result, only 50% of the eggs produced will hatch, which further worsens the situation.

5. Notorious Respiratory Aspergillosis Infection

Aspergillosis outbreaks in the world’s largest and only flightless parrot were unexpectedly caused by a single fungal strain.

A recent outbreak of aspergillosis caused the deaths of nine individuals, leaving only 211 birds in the population during a highly successful nesting season.

Considering that the population is only 211 individuals, the death of 9 individuals due to an outbreak could have serious consequences for the entire population.

However, veterinarians are making every effort to prevent kakapo from contracting this deadly fungus.


White, K. L., et al. “Evidence of inbreeding depression in the critically endangered parrot, the kakapo.” Animal Conservation 18.4 (2015): 341-347.

Winter, David J., et al. “A single fungal strain was the unexpected cause of a mass aspergillosis outbreak in the world’s largest and only flightless parrot.” Iscience 25.12 (2022).

Karl, Brian J., and Hugh Andrew Best. “Feral cats on Stewart Island; their foods, and their effects on kakapo.” New Zealand journal of zoology 9.2 (1982): 287-293.


  • Ali Shahid

    Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and an animal lover. He loves to give expert opinions about different animals. He has worked in top organization of birds like Bigbird Feed and Poultry Research institute. He loves birds, especially parrots and has great experience in different parrot farms.

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