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Kākāpō Keeper

GAY BUCKINGHAM’S new book, Kākāpō Keeper, is a novel for children based on the real efforts of early New Zealand conservationist Richard Henry. We asked Gay to tell us a little more about the book and give us some advice for getting the family involved in bird conservation. 

How did you first hear about the work of Richard Henry?
If somebody asked if you wanted to sail to a place where Captain James Cook and his men lived for six weeks, where New Zealand’s first European shipwreck occurred, and the very first attempt to save kākāpō took place, what would you say? 

That’s what I said too. 

So we sailed to Dusky Sound in Fiordland, and I saw those things – and became very interested in where Richard Henry lived, where he kept his boat, the islands to which he took the birds he saved, and of course, I read books about him.

How did you decide to turn it into fiction?
I loved the story of Richard Henry’s life, but there’s already an excellent book about him, and also his own notes, sketches, maps and photos tell his story very well. Then I started thinking about the teenage boys who helped him. No one had written about them and they didn’t leave notes, so I rolled all four of his assistants into one character and showed what it might have been like for them. (Of course, I have embellished things a bit!)

What ideas do you have for families today on how they can help New Zealand birds?

  • Bird feeding tables are interesting but must be kept clean to prevent disease, and make sure rats can’t get on it, nor cats creep up and pounce. Place food or sugar water where birds can’t poo on it. 
  • Nests must never be disturbed, so never drive on rivers, beaches, tussock or open country where parents may have eggs or chicks.  
  • Dogs must always be under control and kept away from ground-dwelling birds like kiwi. 
  • Cats are dangerous: keep cats in at night, keep them well-fed and offer activities so they won’t want to hunt birds. Consider making them wear a visual collar (see BirdsBeSafe) or a bell.

What would you have most loved or hated if you had been an assistant to Richard Henry?
I’d hate rats chewing my boot laces or sticking their noses in my ears while asleep! I wouldn’t like living on dried and tinned food (even tinned butter) or eating penguin eggs – let alone preserved penguin eggs! The sandflies would have been the worst thing. They never stop biting, and their bites are itchy! Henry’s assistants burned green branches to make smoke to drive them out of the house. Richard Henry smeared butter on the chimney and the sandflies stuck and could not escape. Traditionally Māori rubbed ngaio leaves on the skin to prevent sandflies from biting, but I don’t think Richard Henry knew that.

Do you have a last fun fact for us about the southern fiords where the book is set?
There is an old rhyme to help remember the order of the southern fiords, starting from furthest south, it goes: “Preserve your Chalk, it’s Dusky at Breaksea And Dagg says it’s Doubtful if Thompson went round. But Nancy and Charles go to Caswell for marble And George and Bligh
to grand Milford Sound.”

Hoiho on tour

Hoiho are unique to New Zealand! Even though they are our largest penguins, they still only grow to be about the height of a one-year-old human, 75 cm. They live for about 20 years, which is very old for a penguin! Hoiho feed on fish and squid in the ocean. They go to the sea during the day and come back to shore to sleep in their nests.

Head to kcc.org.nz/portfolio/take-hoiho-on-an-adventure to download your Hoiho. Draw a background around him to show us where you’d take him OR insert him into a photo using the clear-cut image provided.

Share your picture or pictures with us at kcc@forestandbird.org.nz. We’ll put it up on our activity page to inspire others.

For over 30 years, Forest & Bird’s Kiwi Conservation Club | Hakuturi Toa (KCC) has been connecting Kiwi kids to New Zealand’s amazing wildlife and wild places. KCC now has over 5,000 members throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand. Members have the opportunity to go on KCC Adventures. Volunteer coordinators (KCOs) arrange outings and meet-ups for members to explore their local beaches, forests and everywhere in between. Some clubs also get involved in local conservation projects like tree planting, creating lizard gardens or making nesting boxes for little blue penguins.


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