A recent online poll to determine the world’s favourite species threw up surprising results

A nocturnal parrot that cannot fly has captured the imagination of nature lovers across the world. Called kakapo, the bird has been selected as the world’s favourite species in an online poll in which 162 countries participated. ARKive, an extensive digital library on endangered birds, animals, plants, amphibians, reptiles, fish, algae, and fungi, launched a worldwide poll a month ago to celebrate its 10th anniversary — visitors of the website were asked to pick their favourite species along with a reason to back their choice.

The kakapo competed against 50 birds and animals that were shortlisted for the poll. It defeated contenders such as the African elephant, tiger, lion, polar bear and the blue whale to win 9 per cent of the total votes.

According to ARKive, voters chose the bird “because it’s under threat and we need to protect it”. The organisers were admittedly surprised that the kakapo emerged the most-loved over “high-profile animals such as the lion or meerkat”.

Not many people are aware of the bird in India since it is found only in New Zealand. Scientists Dr. Asad Rahmani of the Bombay Natural History Society and P. Pramod of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History say that there aren’t any studies on the bird in the country.

So, what is the kakapo?

The kakapo is moss-green in colour with a generous dose of yellow and a sprinkling of brown and white. Despite its magnificent plumage, the bird cannot fly. Its beak is downward-facing like that of an owl and the small black eyes are accentuated by soft brown feathers that frame the face. The bird is quite heavy — ARKive says that it weighs between 950 gm and 4 kg and that it is “the largest parrot known and is possibly the longest-lived; the oldest known kakapo was elderly when found in 1975 and was still alive in 2002”.

Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the ICUN Red List, the kakapo’s scientific name is ‘Strigops habroptila’ — ‘habroptila’ meaning ‘soft feathers’. The birds follow a mating system called ‘lekking’ in which the males gather at a spot to display themselves to attract females. A little similar to a swayamvara, the male inflates himself to give off a loud ‘boom’, calling out to the females to mate — the sound can sometimes be heard up to five kilometres! After a series of ‘booms’, the males give off a metallic ‘ching’ to direct the females to their position.

Found in the Codfish and Anchor islands in New Zealand, the last remaining kakapo are fiercely protected by the New Zealanders. They have launched a ‘Kakapo Recovery Plan’ to protect the species and actively campaign to protect the birds. (For details, visit www.facebook.com/KakapoRecovery)

The top favourites

1. Kakapo

2. Tiger

3. African elephant

4. Grey wolf

5. Polar bear

6. Red panda

7. Cheetah

8. Snow leopard

9. Bornean orangutan

10. Amur leopard

- ARKive (http://www.arkive.org/) was launched by naturalist Sir David Attenborough and Wildscreen, a Bristol-based wildlife charity that promotes conservation through imagery in 2003.

- The mammoth online resource consists of over 100,000 videos and photographs of endangered species.

- The website lists species groups that can be explored location-wise. Each species is given a detailed description along with breathtaking photographs and films taken by the best people in the field.

- It also has free educational kits for children aged between five and 18. The kits come with attractive Powerpoint presentations, activity packs, sound files and teacher’s notes that are aimed at taking the forest into the classroom. There are also activities, quizzes and games to “keep your little monkeys entertained”.