Friday, April 30, 2010

Saving the Kakapo

The Kakapo is a very large, heavy parrot from New Zealand. They are herbivorous, quiet, gentle, and rare. There are only 123 of them left, due to hunting by cats, rats, stoats, and humans. The nature conservancy societies of New Zealand are attempting to encourage them to recover these numbers.
Unfortunately, easier said than done. Kakapo in the wild breed rarely based on the growth of certain plants, and otherwise show about as little interest in reproduction as Pandas. (Namely, extremely little.) Also, Kakapo have a polygamous breeding system, but now have more males than females. This further limits the options for keeping their species going.
I propose we create "genetic reproductions" of some of the females. The "reproduced" females will have shorter lives than their naturally conceived sisters, but can be artificially inseminated and have perfectly normal offspring, in very large numbers. Existing conservationists have collected large amounts of semen. This was quite helpful of them, but it will do precisely nothing if not enough females are available. And yet it would be very helpful with a large cache of females available.
Offspring of the "Reproduced Kakapos" would be indistinguishable from other Kakapos, but would suffer from the same problem as the rest of the Kakapos: a shallow genetic pool, leading to excessive recessive traits.
I can further help the problem with a second set of "reproduced Kakapos", these would be subject to "Genetic insertion technique." There is a simpler form of life with a unique ability to rewrite our own DNA, and this technique is used in agriculture and animal husbandry to insert new genes. We would insert many new genes and inspect the health of the newborn kakapo. Healthy ones would be introduced to the kakapo population as a whole. Unhealthy ones would live their lives under human supervision.
I propose that I could multiply, at least twelve-fold, the kakapo numbers given just a local biology lab, a million eggs of similar size to Kakapo eggs (possible turkey?), and blood sample from a Kakapo female.
Lastly, I think I should try to sequence, if possible, genetic samples from taxidermied Kakapos in museums.
The Kakapo faces numerous challenges to survival, but I believe that they can be made to thrive. Maybe even thrive so well that people buy them as pets.

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