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June 2017 Issue
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Kea numbers estimated at 3000-7000

This cheeky kea stole an apple from someone's pocket. Photo: Lindsay Jackson

Results from a new study suggest the numbers of kea roaming the South Island have probably been greatly overestimated – or underestimated.

Estimates have varied from a few hundred to 15,000, but the population has now been determined to be somewhere between 3000 and 7000, according to leading DOC kea researcher, Josh Kemp.

Kemp presented his findings at the Kea Konvention held at Arthur’s Pass in late April.

The two-day conference, hosted by the Kea Conservation Trust and Federated Mountain Clubs, included presentations on current kea research and conservation projects, and a comprehensive workshop and brainstorming session.

Kemp based his data on radio tracking kea females and studying nest survivorship.

Kea Conservation Trust founder Tamsin Orr-Walker said: “It’s a more accurate figure, rather than what we’ve been talking about all along.”

Laughter is contagious, even for kea

A recent study has found that kea have a ‘play call’ that puts others around them into a playful mood. In a report in US magazine Current Biology, researchers say kea are the first known non-mammal to have ‘emotionally contagious’ vocalisation.

We asked Wilderness Facebook followers to share their tales of the playful parrot’s antics. Here’s a selection of responses:

Paul J Ayres: “One stole my beanie while step cutting on Fox Glacier. He returned it to me the following day with a couple of extra holes.”

Dina Parker: “Some juvenile kea discovered us camping by the waterfall on Cascade Saddle. They waited until we went to sleep then quietly tore holes in our tents and stole rubbish and gear. It was windy so we didn’t hear them. We woke to six tents with holes and rips, and one ripped pack. Total repair cost was $850.”

Matthew Robertson: “One time, a kea stole a Curiously Strong Peppermint from us and regretted it. In fact, it then appeared to be angry with us for it.”

Dennis Radermacher: “A friend’s hat was blown to the edge of a vertical drop. Too dangerous to recover, Mr Kea grabbed it and pulled it back to the path for us. No holes!”

Lindsay Jackson: “This cheeky kea (pictured) quickly and expertly stole the apple core from a visitor’s back pack pocket at the top of Ben Lomond.”