Kakapo 125+

This project is complete! Please contact The Department of Conservation (DOC) if you would like access to the data for this project.

Sequencing the genomes of all known living kākāpō

With so few individual kākāpō remaining it's critical for the breeding program's success to have a detailed understanding of the genetic variations at the individual level.


To sequence the genomes of all remaining 125 kākāpō. This will allow us to better understand the genetic variation between individuals which in turn allows us to breed pairs even more selectively. It also serves as a foundation for potential future genetic intervention in order to more quickly and successfully breed kākāpō.

About the Kākāpō

The kākāpō (Māori: kākāpō or night parrot), Strigops habroptilus (Gray, 1845), also called owl parrot, is a species of large, flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling parrot of the super-family Strigopoidea endemic to New Zealand.

It has finely blotched yellow-green plumage, a distinct facial disc of sensory, vibrissa-like feathers, a large grey beak, short legs, large feet, and wings and a tail of relatively short length. A combination of traits make it unique among its kind; it is the world's only flightless parrot, the heaviest parrot, nocturnal, herbivorous, visibly sexually dimorphic in body size, has a low basal metabolic rate and no male parental care, and is the only parrot to have a polygynous lek breeding system. It is also possibly one of the world's longest-living birds. Its anatomy typifies the tendency of bird evolution on oceanic islands, with few predators and abundant food: a generally robust physique, with accretion of thermodynamic efficiency at the expense of flight abilities, reduced wing muscles, and a diminished keel on the sternum. Like many other New Zealand bird species, the kākāpō was historically important to the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, appearing in many of their traditional legends and folklore. It was hunted and used as a resource by Māori, both for its meat as a food source and for its feathers, which were used to make highly valued pieces of clothing. It was also sometimes kept as a pet.

The kākāpō is critically endangered; as of February 2016, the total known population is only 125 living individuals, as reported by the Kakapo Recovery programme, all of which have been given names. Because of Polynesian and European colonisation and the introduction of predators such as cats, rats, ferrets, and stoats, the kākāpō was almost wiped out. Conservation efforts began in the 1890s, but they were not very successful until the implementation of the Kakapo Recovery plan in the 1980s. As of Feb 2016, surviving kākāpō are kept on three predator-free islands, Whenua Hou/Codfish, Anchor and Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier islands, where they are closely monitored. Other large Fiordland islands, such as Resolution, have been the subject of large-scale ecological restoration activities to prepare self-sustaining ecosystems with suitable habitat for the kākāpō. The New Zealand government is willingly providing the use of these islands to kākāpō conservation.


The Project Team

Andrew Digby

Andrew Digby

Science Advisor Kakapo/Takahe DOC

Andrew is a conservation biologist, with an emphasis on applying his background in the physical sciences to ecology and conservation. He previously studied and performed research in astrophysics.

Jason Howard

Jason Howard

Neuroscientist, Duke University

Jason (in Erich Jarvis's lab) and his team at Duke were the first to sequence the kākāpō genome. Jason is primarily a neuroscientist working on developing high throughput assays for discovering theuropeutics for Huntingtons disease. As a side project Jason likes to help sequence the genomes of endangered species and is therefore assisting with the Kakapo 125 initiative.

David Iorns

David Iorns

Founder, The Genetic Rescue Foundation

David is a citizen/wannabe scientist helping to advance the scientific techniques required to prevent species extinction through genetic intervention. He's the founder of The Genetic Rescue Foundation a not-for-profit venture that leverages the power of new platforms for collaboration like Experiment and Science Exchange to fund and complete research.


Other Contributors

The Kakapo 125 Project was enabled by the tireless work of many staff within the Department of Conservation, Kakapo Recovery Team.  The Genetic Rescue Foundation would also like to acknowledge the support of Tane Davis of Ngai Tahu and Prof. Erich Jarvis of The Rockefeller University, as well as the contribution of Dr. Bruce Robertson of Otago University.


Kākāpō Recovery

Kākāpō Recovery combines the efforts of scientists, rangers and volunteers, who are charged with looking after the few remaining kākāpō in the world.  Learn more

In the News