How did an American women come to play a large part in the ongoing efforts
to save the kakapo? This was a question the New Zealand member of parliament,
Matiu Rata, asked Rebecca Dennett when he met her in 1991. “I met Matiu
Rata the first morning in New Zealand. The plane landed about 6:30 am,
and I went to the Alpine Hotel in Auckland. I took some of my luggage up
to my room, and when I came down to get the rest, Matiu was there talking
to the girl at the desk. She was telling him about the American woman who
was there because of the kakapo. He was intrigued and wanted to get to
know me. He took me to the War Memorial Museum (I think that was the name)
and showed me the display of stuffed kakapos”.
In 1984, Rebecca saw a documentary called ‘Birds of Paradox’. At the end it showed Alice and Snark and a male booming. She was intrigued as she thought they were extinct and started trying to find more information about them. “The more I found the more I wanted to know. Somehow, this most wonderful of all birds struck a chord in my heart and soul, and never got over it. I decided I couldn’t bear it if they should become extinct.”
Rebecca had a contact who knew Don Merton, the man who had been in the forefront of efforts to save the Kakapo since the 1960s. She began corresponding with those in the New Zealand Wildlife Service involved in saving the kakapo, noteably Ralph Powlesland, who was working on Kakapo at Little Barrier Island at that time.
Rebecca eventually saved enough money to go to NZ in January ‘91, and served as a kakapo volunteer on Little Barrier Island with Ralph Powlesland. “I had never been out of the country, so this was quite the adventure for me. I was terrified, but determined. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a kakapo although one did come down to the bunkhouse but Ralph didn’t wake me up. It was Richard Henry. They had thought he was dead and they were very pleased to find that he wasn’t. They said a kakapo hadn’t come down there in years. I’ve always felt that he came to see me, but it just didn’t happen. I guess I won’t get to see one until I die. I believe all animals have souls like us.”
Rebecca, however, was there when they found a couple of nests and 2 chicks which survived that year. It was the first time chicks had survived since they had found Snark. “I got to ride in the helicopter with the incubator and kakapo eggs between my feet to hold it steady. We landed at the Auckland Zoo and the news crew was there. We were on the news that night. Unfortunately, those eggs didn’t survive. It was a great disappointment. I’ll always treasure my time there and I wish I could go back.”
On her return to the States Rebecca launched “Kakapo Rescue” to raise funds in USA for kakapo conservation efforts in New Zealand. “Rebecca subsequently sent me several cheques for US$5,000 which were a huge help in our very expensive field program,” says Don Merton who was made honorary president of Kakapo Rescue.
In 1993 Rebecca arranged for Don Merton to attend and deliver a paper on kakapo at the American Federation of Aviculture’s National Convention in Salt Lake City — hosted by the Avicultural Society of Utah. “This was a highlight of my life — meeting Rebecca, being greeted at airport by a genuine New Zealand Maori group who performed a traditional welcome, and a little girl — Jody Anderson — dressed up in a kakapo costume! Also, in meeting some of the world’s leading aviculturists, bird vets, diet specialists, I learned a great deal and clearly my attendance at the Convention benefitted the kakapo program.”
Afterwards, Rebecca took Don Merton to see the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park with which Rebecca’s family has had a long association.
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