Monday, September 25, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - New Zealand's Bird of the Year?

New Zealand's Stuff has news of this year's New Zealand Bird of The Year competition. Voting at the Forest and Bird website runs till October 14th 2006, with the endangered Kakapo Parrot in contention as always.
Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said he expected a tight race.

'New Zealand has so many wonderful native birds that are all unique and special in their own way. We are lucky that we have so many worthy contenders to choose from.'

Last year's winner was the tui. This year it was looking to be a difficult choice with VIP voters selecting a wide range of birds, he said.

Prime Minister Helen Clark went for Sirocco, the kakapo, after being moved by seeing him in his natural habitat on Ulva Island.
Full story at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - Slartibartfast and Captain Cook

Yvonne Martin has written a nice little article for New Zealand's Stuff about her trip around the glacier-carved fiords of southern New Zealand with Real The company offers trips around Fiordland, Queenstown and Stewart Island, and the photos of the fiords on their site are quite quite spectacular. I sense Slartibartfast's talented hand at work...
 * Check out Robin's pictures from the comments!

Yvonne writes...
We are seeing the rough-hewn western coastline almost as Captain Cook did over 200 years ago when he charted these waters and mighty fiords, kissed by mist and hallowed by rainbows, probing into the heart of the national park.

Come nightfall, we watch the sun slide behind layers of mountains, emblazoning the sky and waters with a palette of pinks and lilacs.
At the entrance to Dusky Sound, Anchor Island also has remarkable wildlife. It is now home to 30 kakapo released here in an effort to boost their desperately small population of 86. Some are raffish young males exiled to this bird borstal, where they will hopefully charm a mate into breeding.

One of the bird fanciers among us is thrilled to chance across a kakapo feather, then a "snoring" rock on the walk track. His luck is in. They turn out to be the calling cards of a kakapo that has ducked into a hole, waiting for our entourage to pass.

Where else in the world can you stumble across flightless kakapo in the wild, sharing a beaten track with trampers? We cannot think of anywhere.
Yvonne's mention of Captain Cook puts me in mind of home back in the UK. I grew up in sight of the Captain Cook monument near Great Ayton in the north east of England. Although I was well aware of Cook's travels to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, it's only been fairly recently that I've actually read more about them in any detail. Cook's journeys are an absolutely fascinating story, and I can thoroughly recommend "Captain James Cook" by Richard Alexander Hough.

I also have a hardback copy of Tony Horwitz's "Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before" that I am actually finished with. If anyone would like to read it, I'd be happy to pass it along in exchange for a donation to our Save The Rhino Fundraiser. Contact me by email if you're interested.

Finally, I wonder whether CBS's "Survivor - Cook Islands" might make mention of the great explorer for whom the islands are named! We'll see - isn't always that interested in educating the audience about the places they visit. Astonishing to think that Mark Burnett's show about solving jigsaw puzzles is still running in its thirteenth season!

**UPDATE** OK, "Surivor Cook Islands" proves me wrong immediately! The second episode (aired last night) featured a competition with a memory test about Captain Cook's travels. Jeff Probst gave the tribes some facts about three of Cook's journeys. Doesn't it figure...?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS - Lawrence Anthony interview

The Guardian Unlimited has a recent article on Lawrence Anthony, founder of the South African environmental group the Earth Organisation, who persuaded the Lord's Resistance Army to help scientists protect the last few Northern White Rhinos.
If the estimated four animals can be kept alive (only two have been seen from the air, though scientists say the park may hold twice as many), conservationists hope to breed them with a handful of rhinos in zoos in San Diego and Prague.

"They have a gestation period of 18 months, breed once every three years and have one baby, so this is long-haul stuff," Mr Anthony said. "But if it's accorded the proper importance then it can be done. We've broken new ground with this and I think we have to focus on the positive aspects."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

REUNION ISLAND - Chikungunya virus

The BBC has a warning for people travelling to vacation destinations in the Indian Ocean. Travellers are being warned about the increased risk from the crippling Chikungunya virus which swept the island of Reunion beginning March 2005.
The Health Protection Agency said there were 93 cases in people from the UK by August this year, compared to an average of six in previous years.

Cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been recorded on Indian Ocean islands and on the Indian mainland, the HPA's annual conference was told.
Since March 2005 the number of cases of Chikungunya - Swahili for "that which bends up - have been increasing in the islands of the Indian Ocean, particularly the island of Reunion.

The World Health Organisation estimates around 110,000 people were affected in an outbreak on the island between March 2005 and February 2006.
Although the effects of the Chikungunya virus are not generally fatal, symptoms include high fever, headache, severe joint pains, a rash along with nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms usually appear between four to seven days after being bitten and can persist for several weeks.

There is no vaccine against Chikungunya. Treatment consists of relieving symptoms by using painkillers, taking plenty of fluids and resting.
Full story at BBC News - Chikungunya Virus.

Wikipedia link - Chikungunya

We first reported the outbreak of Chikungunya back in March 2006.

GOOGLE EARTH - African Animals in High Resolution

The National Geographic layer for Google Earth has always been interesting and a lot of fun. Within the layer, the African Megaflyover images are marvellous, but it's always been a little difficult to find the most interesting images without having to browse around them all.

Reggie98 has categorized the images into a nice Google Earth placemarks file called "African Animals" where you can now easily find creatures such as hippos (pictured), elephants, hippos, seals, flamingos, and many others. Nothing specifically to do with Last Chance To See, but pretty cool nevertheless and definitely worth a look.

NOTE: I first spotted this over at the Google Earth Blog and thought it was worth a mention.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - A Visit with Sirocco

Mosher recently made the long trip down to Stewart Island, New Zealand and visited Sirocco, one of only 86 Kakapo Parrots left in the world. Sirocco is in temporary quarters on the small isle of Ulva as the star attraction of Kakapo Encounter 2006.

You can read the full account on Mosher's world travelling blog Goodbye UK, Hello World, along with a limited photo gallery here. Flash photography was not allowed so he was lucky to be able to get those few shots.

Mosher was very fortunate to have fabled Kakapo conservationist Don Merton on hand as Sirocco's keeper for the visit, and it is fabulous to see that Sirocco is continuing the great Kakapo tradition of running up trees and jumping out, having forgotten that he has forgotten how to fly. Here's a few paragraphs from Mosher's full post "Kakapo Trip" which I reproduce here with his blessing...
Five minutes walking and a couple more off the designated trail got us to Sirocco's temporary home. A large wooden and perspex pen with climbing trees, feeders and the like inside. Sirocco had already tried to flee once by climbing up to the top of one of the trees and jumping. He almost made it, too. So they chopped a few feet off the tree in case he hurt himself trying again!

Sirocco was partly raised by humans as he had trouble breathing as a chick, and as a result is very friendly. He's also huge and utterly beautiful. From beak to bottom, not including tail feathers, I'd estimate he's a foot and a half long (50cm or thereabouts). His wings are impressive but definitely stubby in comparison to his body size and contribute to the flightlessness of the Kakapo. The other main factor is the weakness of the muscles used for flapping. Instead, the wings are used primarily for balance as the Kakapo climbs and also as air brakes as it jumps. A form of parachuting (or parrot-chuting as one wag put it) to soften their landing.

Far from being flighty, as soon as Sirocco realised he had an audience he walked straight up to the perspex and got as close as he could to his visitors. Even in the low light we could see him clearly, down to the whiskers round his face and his earholes - Kakapo have very good hearing. Unfortunately, the dim light made photographing our star for the evening very hard. I took over 200 pictures, but only a dozen or so are even worth working with. The running commentary from Don - a fountain of ornithological knowledge - was on a par with anything that David Attenborough could run off for the Beeb and without a script. Sirocco played to the crowd, and was even coaxed onto a "swing" to be weighed while Don fed him grapes from a jar.

Our visit lasted over half an hour, but seemed to be a fraction of that. I did hear a sound that I dearly hope many more people get a chance to experience - a Kakapo "skraak"-ing. Sirocco almost always does it for his visitors, and maybe in the future there will be enough of the birds that such a sound will be relatively commonplace.

We all thanked Don - it was truly an honour to meet someone who's done so much worthwhile work - and were guided back to the boat which, as promised, was now sitting higher on the freshly-imported water. The conversation was active as we made our way back to Stewart Island, everyone seemingly on cloud nine after their experience. I think I may have "sold" a copy of Last Chance to See to one of our guides who'd "heard the name" Douglas Adams, but wasn't sure where from. With any luck, she'll be off to Dymocks the next time she gets to the mainland. T-shirts, beanies and pictures were available for sale, but I just didn't have enough cash. What I do have are some pictures and the memories.
Kakapo EncounterThe full version of Mosher's post can be found at "Kakapo Trip".

The Kakapo Encounter runs till October 23rd and costs NZ$80 adult, NZ$40 child.

Friday, September 08, 2006

RSS FEED - Odd behaviour has been fixed

I noticed that Blogger was only publishing a truncated version of the Another Chance To See RSS feed, even though I had it set to "FULL". I'm not sure how long its been doing that, but I reapplied the "FULL" setting, republished the feed and now all is well again. Sorry for any inconvenience...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

AUSTRALIA - The Confusing Country

The Uncertain Principles blog has bumped Douglas Adams' Last Chance To See up its booklog queue in a tribute (of sorts) to the recent tragic death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
I'm not really sure why this book didn't sell a bazillion copies. Adams was, of course, a wildly successful author of humorous science fiction, and people love wildlife. And he does a terrific job of making comedy out of the various trials and tribulations suffered while trying to get to the remote locations where these rare animals survive, while also conveying something of the wonder involved in seeing creqatures that are among the last of their kind. You would think it would've been a hit, but it pretty much sank without a trace. Go figure.
Down in the comments of the Uncertain Principles piece, you'll find a link to a short Douglas Adams piece about Australia which I think is worth promoting. You can find the full text of "The Confusing Country" here. Here's an extract...
The first of the confusing things about Australia is the status of the place. Where other land masses and sovereign lands are classified as either continent, island, or country, Australia is considered all three. Typically, it is unique in this.

The second confusing thing about Australia are the animals. They can be divided into three categories: Poisonous, Odd, and Sheep.

It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them. However,there are curiously few snakes, possibly because the spiders have killed them all. But even the spiders won't go near the sea. Any visitors should be careful to check inside boots (before putting them on) under toilet seats (before sitting down) and generally everywhere else. A stick is very useful for this task.
And again from the comments, you'll find a link to the downloadable Last Chance To See CD-Rom at Home of the Underdogs - Last Chance to See. If you do happen to download this long-out-of-print software, please consider making a contribution to our Save The Rhino fundraiser. I think Douglas would approve...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

LECTURE - 5th Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture

Save the date! The most recent Save The Rhino newsletter has the date for the Fifth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture. The lecture will take place on Thursday 15th March 2007 at the Royal Geographical Society in London, guest of honour to be announced.

And while on the subject of Save The Rhino, I just wanted to thank those of you who've been kind enough to donate to our Save The Rhino fundraiser. We've now raised £50 GBP, 10% of our £500 target for the year. Many thanks.

Monday, September 04, 2006

STEVE IRWIN - Stingray a rare villain, but deadly all the same

Australia's The is one of the hundreds of sites and television stations covering the sudden death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, the victim of a very rare stingray sting. The barb of the stingray pierced Steve Irwin's heart.

The venom researcher Struan Sutherland (who appeared in Last Chance To See) recounted one similar attach from 60 years ago.
In January 1945, a 33-year-old army sergeant took a dip in Melbourne's St Kilda Baths along with other soldiers.

A powerful swimmer, the soldier died with a nasty slash to his left breast. According to a doctor's notes — recorded by the renowned venom researcher Struan Sutherland in his 2001 book Australian Animal Toxins: The Creatures, Their Toxins, and Care of the Poisoned Patient — the stingray attack was sudden.

The soldier had been seen "swimming strongly from the centre of the baths towards the landing steps", say the notes of a Dr Wright-Smith, who performed the autopsy. The victim then disappeared below the water, resurfaced, waved and sank again.
Full story at the

Our sympathies to Steve Irwin's wife and young children.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

MADAGASCAR 2 - The Movie (Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar)

Well this ought to please the kids. DreamWorks Animation is busy "filming" Madagascar 2, a sequel to 2004's original Madagascar movie.

Due for release in 2008, the movie is sub-titled "Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar", and should re-unite Ben Stiller as Alex the Lion, Chris Rock as Marty the Zebra, Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria the Hippo and David Schwimmer as Melman the Giraffe.
In Kung Fu Panda, martial arts masters must turn gentle, lazy Po the Panda into a Kung Fu fighter to save their valley when it is discovered that he bears the mark of a hero foretold in an ancient prophesy. The sequel to Madagascar reunites the escaped Central Park Zoosters, Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo, in the sequel to 2004’s smash hit. The Madagascar Penguins will also be on board for this all-new comedy adventure.