Fate of world's fattest parrot species threatened by fungal infection

PHOTO: Kakapo sits in a tree in this stock photo.PlaySTOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
WATCH News headlines today: June 13, 2019

Veterinarians in New Zealand are working to save the critically endangered kakapo parrot species, which is at risk of being wiped out due to a fungal infection spreading among the birds.

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Less than 150 birds are left, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and seven of them have recently died of aspergillosis, a serious lung infection that affects the respiratory system, according to the Auckland Zoo.

Staff at the Auckland Zoo are currently caring for five kakapo adults and 12 chicks, all at different stages of the illness. Nora-1-A, a 100-day-old chick, is the most recent kakapo to die after receiving a "last chance" procedure to allow her to breed.

"At this time 16 birds have been officially diagnosed with aspergillosis so Nora-1-A is highly unlikely to be the last chick we lost to this disease," zoo staff wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

Kakapos are characterized by their green feathers, waddling gait and "distinctive owl-like face," according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The flightless birds are known as the heaviest parrot species in the world, with males typically weighing just under 5 pounds and females about 3 pounds. They also may be the longest-living bird species in the world, estimated to reach an age of 90 years.

PHOTO: Kakapo sits in a tree in this stock photo. STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
Kakapo sits in a tree in this stock photo.

The species has been teetering "on the edge of extinction" since the mid-1990s, and faces "major challenges" due to infertility and inbreeding, according to the Department of Conservation.

The fungal infection began to spread during the bird's breeding season, according to the zoo.

The care for the kakapos has been so critical that earlier this month, the zoo put a call out to any experienced vets or vet nurses for help.