Last week for my children’s nonfiction class, we had to read two books about the kakapo, an endangered New Zealand parrot. Neither of the books, strictly speaking, were YA books, but they were both great and the kakapo is an amazing bird and I am going to blog about it. So there.
Kakapo! Here are some facts about them.
- They are the only nocturnal, flightless parrots in the world.
- They naturally smell like honey.
- There are only 127 known kakapo left in the world.
So, the first book we read is a children’s book, Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. These two have written other books in the Scientists in the Field series, and they generally know what they are doing. Kakapo Rescue won the Sibert Medal (which is the ALA’s award for children’s nonficton.) There are great photos of the beautiful kakapo, and I love that these two got to spend 2 weeks on Codfish Island, the kakapo’s reserve. They documented their visit, including tagging along with the various scientists and volunteers who live on the island to monitor the kakapo. They also highlighted several of the kakapo, so you get to know a bit about the birds’ personalities. It also has sidebar information about the history of the kakapo’s brink with extinction. It’s a very well-done introduction to the kakapo itself and current conservation efforts, which are heartwarming–people giving up their jobs to volunteer as full-time kakapo minders. The volunteers and paid scientists alike are clearly extremely passionate about these birds, and it’s hard not to feel the same.
Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World’s Greatest Wildlife Rescue by William Stolzenburg is a very different book. It’s an adult popular science book, though a motivated high schooler could read it too. It’s not just about the kakapo–it’s more broadly about the way island ecosystems encourage the evolution of weird animals like the kakapo, who are pretty much helpless to foreign predators like rats and cats. He talks about how amazingly difficult it is to get rid of rats. Like, so hard, guys. So before Kakapo Rescue could even take place, SOMEBODY had to kill a billion rats to create a safe island for the kakapo. Rat Island also gives much more information about Richard Henry, the first conservationist to pay much attention to the kakapo. He tried to gather up a bunch on to what he thought was a safe island, but somehow a weasel got there and killed most of them. Then Richard Henry tried to kill himself, but failed. Twice. So he gave up on suicide. Poor guy.
Anyway, I thought Rat Island was completely fascinating, but fair warning: pretty much everyone else in my class hated it. (We all loved Kakapo Rescue.) Their complaints: no photos (I mean… it is a “grown up book”…), too much information, and jumps around a lot in time. This is all true, I guess, but it’s such a crazy story! Oh, and also, this guy Bill Wood trained Wishbone’s grandaughter, Freckles, to help him eradicate feral cats in the Baja islands. WHAT.
Finally, here is a BBC video of Stephen Fry making jokes while a kakapo tries to mate with Mark Carwardine’s head. SAVE THE KAKPO PLEASE.
For more kakapo information, check out the Kakapo Recovery Programme. Do it.
Overall, I rate the kakapo a million stars for being so cute and amazing. These two books about them are pretty good too.