RIP Richard Henry

By Hilary Miller 14/01/2011

From Codfish Island this morning comes the sad news of the death of Richard Henry, the last remaining Fiordland kakapo.  Richard Henry was captured in Fiordland in 1975, at a time when kakapo were thought to be virtually extinct.  All other kakapo currently living are descended from birds discovered on Stewart Island in 1977.  A 2003 study* showed that kakapo have low genetic variation, with the exception of Richard Henry who was genetically distinct from all the Stewart Island birds.  Richard Henry had thus become an important player in the kakapo recovery program as the recovery team attempted to boost the genetic diversity of the species. 

This DNA fingerprint of kakapo clearly shows how distinct Richard Henry was. His fingerprint is marked with an asterisk – all the others are from Stewart Is. birds

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One of the key players in the Kakapo Recovery Programme was found dead on Codfish Island yesterday, marking the end of an era.

Kakapo Richard Henry was discovered by one of the recovery team members after what was believed to be an 80-year life.

Richard Henry, who was named after a Victorian conservationist who pioneered kakapo recovery, was originally found as an adult in Fiordland in 1975 when his species was believed to be extinct.

Since that time he has contributed to the genetic diversity of kakapo in the recovery programme and is well known for his efforts.

Department of Conservation programme scientist Ron Moorhouse said Richard Henry would be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.

“Richard Henry was a living link to the early days of kakapo recovery and perhaps even to a time before stoats when kakapo could boom unmolested in Fiordland,” he said.

Richard Henry was showing signs of ageing for some time before he was found, including blindness in one eye, slow movement and wrinkles, he said.

Meanwhile, the kakapo breeding season is under way on Codfish and Anchor islands and the first eggs are expected to appear next month.

*Disclaimer: I was part of that study, and the fingerprint gel is one of my more arty pieces of molecular biology, so I thought I’d post it in tribute.

The reference is: Miller HC, Lambert DM, Millar CD, Robertson BC, Minot EO (2003) Minisatellite DNA profiling detects lineages and parentage in the endangered kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) despite low microsatellite DNA variation. Conservation Genetics, 4: 265-274.


0 Responses to “RIP Richard Henry”

  • That’s rather sad news, although entirely expected; 80 is a good old age for a parrot. I remember hearing about Richard Henry in my hons. year ecology lectures. At the time I thought it a very poignant story; those last few male kakapo sitting in their bowls in Fiordland valleys, booming & booming away & no-one ever coming 🙁 Glad he got to hang out with the girls & spread his genes around.