Keeping Up With Kea

How Denver Zoo is helping make sure these endangered parrots will be around for generations to come

By Jessica Meehan, Bird Keeper

  At Denver Zoo, our passion for animals extends well beyond our 80-acre campus. We have five field conservation sites on four continents, but we also support Zoo staff through grants that allow them to travel the world and work on projects they’re passionate about. For me, that passion project is the New Zealand-based Kea Conservation Trust (KCT). Kea hold a special place in my heart-from the ones we have here at the Zoo to their wild counterparts, which need our help. Denver Zoo started supporting the KCT in 2018, purchasing nine radio transmitters that were attached to birds during the January 2019 summer population surveys. These radio transmitters are designed especially for kea and fit onto their backs, allowing them to be tracked from the air and by land. These nifty transmitters indicate a bird’s location and whether she is nesting. This allows researchers to follow up during the breeding season to find and check the nests, install cameras to monitor them, and record the success or failure of the breeding attempt. The KCT fitted nine females with transmitters and has been following up on them over the last year.

Photo by: Becky Muir

Photo by: Becky Muir While breeding is an important part of getting kea numbers up in the wild, they still face another obstacle: their own insatiable curiosity. Kea are experts at play, destruction, puzzle-solving, and creative foraging, both here and in the wild. Kea are known to damage vehicles and other property, steal from tourists and even chew on buildings! This last habit has caused an unusual problem for them-they love the sweet, soft taste of lead nails and flashing they find on buildings and many birds are showing signs of lead poisoning. The KCT has been working to test the blood lead levels of all kea that are trapped for banding and monitoring so they can understand the extent of the problem, and birds with toxic levels of lead can be rehabilitated by local veterinarians.

Photo by: Andrius Pasukonis

Photo by: Andrius Pasukonis In February, Denver Zoo is sending me to New Zealand to join in those important lead testing efforts, with additional support from our local Rocky Mountain chapter of AAZK (American Association of Zookeepers). Zookeepers are often great candidates to join in field conservation projects because of our years of experience working closely with animals, and our passion for saving their wild counterparts.  Denver Zoo’s small grant program has a rich history of providing opportunities to walk the talk when it comes to conservation of the animals we care so much about.  Click here for details on other small grant funded projects! I can’t wait to get to work, and share this experience with the Denver Zoo community, so make sure to keep a close eye on our Facebook, Twitter and  Instagram for updates! Photos by: Becky Muir, Mary Shee and Andrius Pasukonis