Spate of kākāpo deaths 'the devastating outcome of the really great breeding season'

Seven kākāpo have now died in the last three months from a respiratory disease called aspergillosis.

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A respitory disease has seen 35 birds taken out of their natural habitat into vetinary care. Source: 1 NEWS

It’s from bacterial fungal spores that float in the air. They’re not usually fatal, in fact everyone breathes them in at any given moment.

The problem is there are too many breeding inside kākāpo nests.

The disease has seen 35 of the birds taken out of their natural habitat on Whenua Hou Island (off Stewart Island) and into veterinary care.

Dr James Chatterton at Auckland Zoo is leading a team treating 17 kākāpo.

"Normally there has to be something wrong for you to get the disease from those spores and that can be that you’re living in an underground nest where there are lots and lots of the spores. It can’t be transmitted from bird to bird," he says.

Over the last 30 years aspergillosis is known to have killed just one kakapo. With just little over 200 left on the planet, it’s concerning vets both nationally and internationally.

Chelsea Dylan studied wildlife in New Zealand. More recently she helped with this year's booming kakapo season – where over 70 healthy chicks hatched.

After returning to San Diego Zoo she heard the news of the kākāpo. Now she’s on unpaid leave from her job to be back in New Zealand to fight for the critically endangered species.

"This is a devastating outcome of the really great breeding season and hopefully not going to be the final outcome," she says.

Medical communities are banding together around the country to help – even Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital is providing use of its CT scan machine to help diagnose the birds.

While aspergillosis isn’t incurable, time is a defining factor. Dr Chatterton says the best chance a kākāpo has is an early diagnosis with lots of medication.

"But that’s really challenging with wild birds."

It’s not just Auckland helping, Massey University's Wild Base Hospital in Palmerston North has taken in six birds for treatment and Dunedin's Wildlife Hospital has taken in a further 12.