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Thursday 27 Nov 2014

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Last Chance To See presenter names endangered parrot

Zoologist Mark Carwardine, presenter of BBC Two's current series about endangered animals, Last Chance To See, has been given the honour of naming one of the rare Kakapo chicks that feature in the programme, to be seen on Sunday 4 October.

Mark, whose adventures with Stephen Fry have been captivating BBC Two audiences as they go in search of some of the scarcest – and strangest – species on Earth, was delighted to be asked to name one of the new Kakapo which bring their total numbers to more than 100 for the first time in decades.

Mark says: "It was a real honour to have the opportunity to name one of these magnificent animals.

"I chose the name Jemma after the daughter of a good friend. She's only eight years old and has already developed a passion for wildlife and conservation. It is a great step in ensuring that the Kakapo conservation story is passed on to the next generation.

"As well as this, Jemma means gem or jewel – which are obviously precious – as is the Kakapo."

Mark first travelled to see the Kakapo – a huge, flightless parrot – with the late writer Douglas Adams in the late Eighties for a book, also called Last Chance To See and a radio series, which can be heard on the programme's website at bbc.co.uk/lastchancetosee.

On that first encounter, the Kakapo, which had once thrived throughout New Zealand, numbered just 40, and were the subject of a conservation programme which has since become the template for saving species.

The remaining Kakapo were rounded up and transferred to an island, which had been cleared of all predators, watched over by volunteers who charted their every move as they fought to spare the animal from extinction.

Stephen and Mark spend time with the volunteers in Sunday's programme, learning about the bird's breeding habits – the male clears a bowl shaped area in the earth for the female to inspect, meticulously keeping it spick and span, but the birds won't mate unless a certain species of tree has a certain percentage of fruit on it.

Since the filming of Last Chance To See, a successful breeding season has meant that there are now 32 more Kakapo than when Fry and Carwardine stepped onto the island in January 2009. This has brought the bird's precarious population up to 124 – the first time their numbers have topped 100 in decades.

Kakapo recovery team leader, Deirdre Vercoe, says: "The extraordinary efforts of everyone involved in the Kakapo recovery project has resulted in a hugely successful breeding season. It’s a proud moment for everyone involved and if our success continues perhaps one day Kakapo wont need to be filmed in future Last Chance to See programmes."

Last Chance To See is on BBC Two on Sunday 4 October at 8.00pm.

JW

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