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Deodorant Sought to Save New Zealand's Native Birds 102

Posted by samzenpus
from the safety-smell dept.
New Zealand researchers have received a NZ$600,000 grant to develop a deodorant for native birds whose strong odors make them easy targets for introduced predators. Since the birds evolved without any mammal predators they emit a very strong odor compared to birds in other parts of the world. Canterbury University researcher Jim Briskie says kiwis smell like mushrooms or ammonia, while kakapo parrots have a hint of "musty violin case."
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Deodorant Sought to Save New Zealand's Native Birds

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  • But (Score:2, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484)
    How do they taste?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You joke, but there was a news segment earlier this year about a guy who wanted to farm kiwis as food. His reasoning being, that cows, sheep and chicken will never become extinct. Start eating them, and farming them, and they will be saved...
      • by Dr Dodgy (1063100)
        Actually it was about Wekas which are another New Zealand flightless native that is similarly protected. He suggested Kiwi could be farmed in a similar way but only as an aside to his main Weka topic. I suspect his initial claims were centred solely around Kiwi but he was not ballsy enough to come straight out and say "we should eat those fat little fuckers, have you ever seen cows on the endangered animals register?".
        /New Zealander
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Spugglefink (1041680)

        a guy who wanted to farm kiwis as food

        Soylent Green?

    • But...How do they taste?

      The deodorants?

  • by yincrash (854885) on Friday September 24, 2010 @04:57PM (#33692002)
    are we going to just deodorize them for the rest of time? i understand that it's probably our introduction of predators, but other than preservation in a zoo, how is it any way feasible or practical to deodorize them?
    • by Moryath (553296) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:05PM (#33692128)

      It's not feasible, but that never stopped a government full of fucking morons from authorizing this kind of waste of money before.

      These are the same type of people who decided there were too many insects, so they brought in toads... then they brought in cats, dogs, bunnies as pets... they brought in foxes for "recreational hunting"...brought in "pretty flowers", "garden plants", and on and on.

      It's a wonder that vineweeds like "St. Augustine Grass" haven't overrun the whole fucking island. Of course, they have enough trouble with ragwort [wikipedia.org]...

      • by Rei (128717) on Friday September 24, 2010 @06:22PM (#33692978) Homepage

        Let me provide the history here. Let's look at the Kakapo, for example.

        The Kakapo, or "owl parrot", is the heaviest (and only flightless) parrot species in the world. It is a unique evolutionary branch; it is the only member in not just its genus, but its own monotypic tribe. It has a wide range of unusual habits, such as being nocturnal and having a lek breeding system (where the males gather in a certain place at a certain time and put on shows to attract females).

        It is incredibly well camouflaged, which was its defense in an area devoid of mammals which can hunt by smell. When cats, rats, ferrets, weasels, and stoats were introduced to New Zealand, however, it become a sitting dinner. The population on the mainland collapsed. In the late 1800s, they tried moving the remaining birds to Resolution Island as a sanctuary. In 1900s, stoats swam to the island and wiped out the entire population there in six years. So they tried moving the increasingly rare Kakapos to Little Barrier Island. Feral cats existed on the island, and the birds were never seen again. So they tried Kapiti island. The birds held out a bit longer against the feral cats there, but died as well. The bird went extinct on the north Island of New Zealand, and they were only rarely spotted on the south. A few times they caught enough birds to try to breed them in captivity. Every attempt failed. At several times, the birds were believed to be extinct or functionally extinct.

        Then, in 1977, they found a small, precarious population of kakapo on Steward Island. There were no stoats, but feral cats were killing half the population every year. They had good luck controlling the cats, but could not eliminate them, so they began transferring the birds to even more remote islands and embarking on major predator eradication efforts. They finally got them to start breeding and increasing their numbers (although early on, polynesian rats were a huge predator of chicks). The population was down to about 40 in the mid 1990s, but is now up to 122 at present.

        While the efforts to eradicate predators have been pretty successful, polynesian rats still remain a big problem in places. They go through great efforts to keep the rats away from the nests, including electronic devices with IR motion sensors that make bangs and flashes when rats approach. In short, for the time being, these species are entirely dependent on humans for their survival, and until a stable population can be reached, they will continue to need our assistance. The long term goal is to have stable populations on predator-free islands.

        In the mean time, if you can make it so rats, cats, stoats, etc can't smell the defenseless birds? That'd be a huge, money-saving coup that could really help restore the populations.

        • As interesting as all that is, why are we so hell-bent on keeping them alive? Obviously they aren't a key part of a food chain, or the effects of such a low population would already have been felt. Sure it may or may not be humans that were originally responsible for introducing the predators, but how does that make it legitimate to spend so much on preserving them? Does the government of NZ really not have better things to do?

          • by Rei (128717)

            In general, conservationists take the approach that if we caused a problem, we should do our best to fix it. New Zealand's amazing bird species were really hard hit by human settlement (which has profoundly changed the islands' ecosystem), and a huge number are either extinct, endangered, or threatened. There's the Kakapo and all but one species of Kiwi, of course. The huge Moa was butchered to extinction by the Maori. The Haast's Eagles, big enough to prey on the Moa, went extinct in turn. Two of thre

            • Okay, so I get that these are cool animals which are headed for extinction. I agree that it would be nice if they stayed around, but what amount of resources are worth spending to avoid that? If all basic human needs were being met then by all means, lets save the birds next... but basic human needs aren't being met in many places.

              If private organizations are funding these efforts then they certainly have a right to, though I'd personally rather see that money go to humanitarian efforts. If it is governm

              • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Friday September 24, 2010 @11:15PM (#33694680)

                It is simply not possible to meet all human needs. That you don't undrestand this is an indication that you don't know how vile some people are. There are people who destroy stuff for the fun of it or because they're too drunk/drugged to know what they're doing, or care what they're doing. Having destroyed their own stuff, they'll whine that their needs aren't being met, and there will always be others who insist that a third party provide their needs.

                People who do not deserve to live, should not be helped to live off the efforts of others. A person who helps someone who is immoral, is performing an immoral act.

                • While there may be a number of people whose way of life consists of draining the resources of others to make thier own life better. Those are not the only people who need, or want, help.
                  There are also people who may have been very productive for most of thier lives but due to accident, misfortune, or even temporary stupidity, may be in need of a little help to get back on thier feet. With this help, they could return to being productive members of society for the rest of thie

        • by Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) on Friday September 24, 2010 @07:19PM (#33693398)
          Wouldn't it be easier to make a Kakapo-scented TRAP?

          If you can't get rid of the predators, at least help the predators select out their taste for Kakapo

        • They finally got them to start breeding

          See, this is the main problem with almost all NZ native species that are 'endangered', that is to say they just don't seem to want to breed.

          Conservation efforts are constantly running up against this; the damn things just don't seem to want to fuck and make babies.

          They seem to just want to lie down and die out.

          I say LET THEM.

        • The population on the mainland collapsed...they [moved] the remaining birds to Resolution Island...stoats..wiped out the entire population...So they [moved them] to Little Barrier Island... Feral cats...the birds were never seen again. So they tried Kapiti island. The birds...died... At several times, the birds were believed to be extinct or functionally extinct.

          Then, in 1977, they found a small, precarious population of kakapo on Steward Island.

          Seems to me the problem isn't how to keep them alive, but how

      • by Rei (128717)

        By the way -- if you want to get a sense of how much they spend trying to save this species, check this out [wildlifeextra.com]. That's what they do when one of these birds gets sick. They really don't want to let the kakapo die out.

      • Ummm.. in west central Florida where I'm from that's the standard grass, not a weed. "Crab grass" on the other hand....
      • Hmm - Moron-ith, do you know which country New Zealand is? Do you mean Australia (with the toads)? Maybe you mean Great Britain with the foxes? But well done with the ragwort comment, NZ does have ragwort, although i think you just got lucky with this one.
    • I agree the idea sounds silly, but invoking Darwin? I guess you missed the part of the summary that reads "introduced predators," as in not so natural selection. When humans inadvertently or deliberately endanger a species, we should just throw up our hands and say "oh, well?" When your roof leaks, you try to fix it.
      • by Moryath (553296)

        Perhaps you weren't paying attention. Humans - aboriginal or otherwise - ARE an invasive species, introduced, predator, etc. And there are a whole host of symbiotic plants and animals that seem to just like to follow us around anywhere.

        This is no different from asian carp or zebra mussels getting into waterways in North America. The only real difference is that these birds are "cute and cuddly" to some bleeding heart moron who is so arrogant as to think that they can stop the natural course of biology in it

        • by chriso11 (254041)

          Errr - correct me if I'm wrong, but the carp and Zebra mussels were introduced by human activities, while the Kiwi's are in their natural habitat. There are many non-cuddly animals that have protected status. I do not know of any endangered species that is considered a 'pest' from reintroduction into another location.

          As for mosquitoes, perhaps you could read this article on the importance of mosquitoes.. [nature.com]

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by sourcerror (1718066)

            However their conclusion is quite the contrary to what you seem to suggest:

            "Given the huge humanitarian and economic consequences of mosquito-spread disease, few scientists would suggest that the costs of an increased human population would outweigh the benefits of a healthier one. And the 'collateral damage' felt elsewhere in ecosystems doesn't buy much sympathy either. The romantic notion of every creature having a vital place in nature may not be enough to plead the mosquito's case. It is the limitations

            • by chriso11 (254041)

              My points were
              A) The pests that Moryath were referring to were introduced by humans; the impact on the Kiwi's is not because the Kiwis were introduced, but they were 'victims' from introduced species.

              B) Eradicating mosquitoes is probably a benign effort (if implemented correctly). The Screwworm [wikipedia.org] was a major pest that was effectively eradicated from most of North and Central America. This effort provided a significant improvement in the quality of life for a large number of animals, including wild animals.

        • The only real difference is that these birds are "cute and cuddly" t

          So what? It's an evolutionary advantage. Humans like them, therefore we protect them. It's not like we get nothing out of the deal. I'd like to see one of these someday. I'm half convinced that some of the bans on private ownership of certain species is eliminating a huge avenue for rehabilitating some species. If it weren't for 'pet' species, a lot of the varieties of cattle that exist today would have long gone extinct.

        • I guarantee you, if the mosquito became "endangered" tomorrow because someone came up with a fogger that worked too fucking well and they started to vanish from an entire continent, nobody would shed a tear.

          Until all the bats started starving, and plants ceased being pollinated (I very much doubt this 'fogger' would only target mosquitoes.)

          Then, fuckheads like you would, of course, say the bats and plants are unnecessary.

          Stick your spoon in your tub of soylent green and grin at us, moron.

    • Maybe there are plans to deal with the introduced predators. Maybe yes keep them deodorized indefinitely until they come up with an easier plan. Maybe they figure the price of this deodorant will be worth preventing a species from going extinct in the wild. I don't see why we should adopt natural selection as a goal after we introduce invasive species. I personally don't think "natural is always better," especially since it sounds like they're only going extinct because we introduced predators. Even if

    • by richardkelleher (1184251) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:58PM (#33692788) Homepage
      In all likelihood, the deodorization process will break their breeding process and they will disappear completely in a year or two.
    • I've been thinking it would be good to develop a robot that smells like a kiwi and attracts the predators. When the predator is crawling over the fake kiwi robot, the robot injects the predator with death poison.
    • by Darinbob (1142669)
      It'll be a marketing campaign, showing humorous videos of female kiwis flocking to male kiwis who use Axe Body Wash.
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "are we going to just deodorize them for the rest of time?"

      Wouldn't it be easier to odorize their whole habitat with bird-stink, so that predators can't use it anymore?

  • by symes (835608)
    So surely then the predators will just adjust and go for the smell of deodorant? What eats these birds anyhow? Just so a I know what I can expect to find nibbling my armpit.
  • Will not make joke about how the people smell...Will not make joke about how the people smell...
  • by Beerdood (1451859) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:02PM (#33692080)
    I find that hard to believe. According to the commercials I've seen, deodorants like Old Spice and Axe body spray seems to attract natural predators like cougars more than they repel them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wisnoskij (1206448)

      Well it might be hard to believe that it could work or that it is even feasible to accomplish if they had a working deodorant, but I find it easy to believe that a government would waste $600,000.

  • But after reading about the kakapo, it must be the stupidest, most pointless bird on the planet. Sure I guess it is good to study them to understand whatever needs to be understood, but these birds are pretty retarded. Because of their environment, they evolved into something that has practically no positive traits to help their survival. In fact, practically everything about them invites predators to them, or makes them completely helpless. I suppose it would be bad for them to all die, but I'm not sure w
    • by Moryath (553296) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:19PM (#33692324)

      Also, one would imagine if they tasted good, New Zealand would long ago have started farming them and introduced "New Zealand Fried Kakapo" restaurants all over.

      I suppose it would be bad for them to all die, but I'm not sure why, exactly.

      Species go extinct all the time. They did it before humans, they'll do it after humans. Some of them do it to themselves, some succumb to natural climate shifts, some wind up as dinner due to an evolution by a predator. One good volcanic eruption can take out a whole bunch of them - and if it burns up most of the plant material on the island, the herbivores are pretty much doomed.

      Humans are the most arrogant idiotic species on the planet: we're so damn arrogant we actually think we can save species of animals from the normal course of change, e.g. extinction.

      • by Moryath (553296)

        Addendum:
        Yes, humans count as an invasive species.
        Yes, humans count as a predator.
        Yes, humans have, as a species, driven other species to extinction. Steller's Sea Cow, for just one example - although by the time it was discovered in 1741, the word is that it was already on its way to extinction, having gone from massive abundance to only existing in a small area around the Commander Islands region (though again, the current theoretical guess is that it was killed off in other regions of its range by aborig

        • The greatest danger to humans is that we overbreed like crazy...

          We breed just fine, it's just we've become largely (although not entirely) unaffected by predation, disease, and famine, so we're a lot harder to kill off than we used to be.

          Even a generation ago, just about every family had some story about the baby they lost to some unavoidable tragedy. Those stories are growing increasingly rare.

          I figure the pendulum will swing the other way soon enough though. Some super bug pandemic, some extinction event, or the species just collapsing under the weight of its impact

      • Humans are the most arrogant idiotic species on the planet: we're so damn arrogant we actually think we can save species of animals from the normal course of change, e.g. extinction.

        And we can.

        We can talk about cost/benefit, although that almost entirely based on hard to define values (like the likelihood some species will be able to help cure a disease or convert waste to biofuel, and how predictable that would be.)

        But seriously, we have a crazy amount of control over the planet. Why couldn't we save a sp

        • by Moryath (553296)

          Ok, try this one.

          You have a slow-moving animal, evolved on an island where it was the only major predator for something like, say, plants.

          Now all of a sudden a pregnant ship's cat gets loose on the island. Or someone's pregnant pet dog. Or a gravid snake that was hiding out on a ship, or in someone's house because the moron likes keeping "exotic" animals as pets.

          A few years later, there are 300 or more of these things just eating every one of our slow-moving, ground-nesting animal that they can find. What a

          • You're talking about human-caused extinctions that arise from one-time, highly-influential accidents. Unfortunate as these may be, you are right, there is really nothing humans can reasonably do about them. But you can't deny that there are other cases where humans can put a stop to some aspect of their own behavior, when it is ongoing, and directly harmful to a species. I'm not saying we always can or should do that, but to say that humans can NEVER prevent an extinction that they would have been responsib
    • by John Whitley (6067) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:23PM (#33692384) Homepage

      I suppose it would be bad for them to all die, but I'm not sure why, exactly.

      Wow, what's not to understand here?

      1. Animal adapts to its native environment, and survives just fine.
      2. Humans introduce invasive, non-native species that displace and/or devastate native species. Being capable of awareness of our environment and capable of compassion, we eventually feel like fuck-ups for this. "Damn, made a mess. Maybe should go clean it up."
      3. We try to do something about it.

      It's #2 that's key, and it doesn't require being a "hippie" to get it. Even non-hippies manage to keep a clean house. Is that sentiment so hard to grok?

      • by Aboroth (1841308)
        Well, you didn't actually address my point. I was wondering why it would matter if they all die. All you did was give a reason why we should feel bad about it.
        • by hawkfish (8978)

          Well, you didn't actually address my point. I was wondering why it would matter if they all die. All you did was give a reason why we should feel bad about it.

          What's the difference? If you accept that we "should" feel bad about it, that implies that it "matters" to you.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by John Whitley (6067)

          blah blah blah biodiversity blah blah ecosystem disruption blah blah blah(**)

          (**) yeah, it's Friday and I'm feeling snarky.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by Aboroth (1841308)
        Also thanks for acting like a pretentious prick.
        • by hawkfish (8978)

          Also thanks for acting like a pretentious prick.

          I didn't read it that way. Why did you?

      • Animal adapts to its native environment, and survives just fine.

        No they aren't.

        The native environment includes predators now. And it's not like we genetically engineered the things. They are natural too. It's not like species have not transferred locations before, it probably would have happened anyway someday even without humans.

        Basically, they found a comfortable place for a time but made bad evolutionary choices that ensured some day they would be screwed.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          The native environment includes predators now.

          Um, I'm pretty sure the "native" word was to make clear that while now there are predators, they didn't get there on their own power.

          And it's not like we genetically engineered the things.

          Not yet.

          They are natural too. It's not like species have not transferred locations before, it probably would have happened anyway someday even without humans.

          I'm going to guess "no". The point is, it's a guess, just like your comment is a guess. Humans have intentionally or u

          • Um, I'm pretty sure the "native" word was to make clear that while now there are predators, they didn't get there on their own power.

            The original ones didn't, but that was literally over 100 years ago!! At this point they are native, since they flourish on their own- and as I stated it was only a matter of time that other species would make it there, humans or not.

            I'm going to guess "no".

            Where do you think islands get so much of the wildlife they have? Animals can naturally make it over huge distances you

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jrumney (197329)

          it probably would have happened anyway someday even without humans.

          Someday, when feral cats learn to make boats stocked up with provisions and sail thousands of miles across the ocean.

    • by russ1337 (938915)

      But after reading about the kakapo, it must be the stupidest, most pointless bird on the planet.

      no that would be Sarah Palin......

      =rimshot=

    • I suppose it would be bad for them to all die, but I'm not sure why, exactly.

      Genetic diversity is in general a good thing to preserve. If a particularly bad bird disease decimates most of the major birds, but the kakapo is resistant, we'd really be glad we saved them. The chances of that happening seem extremely low, and I think it's also pretty unlikely that we'll find any other practical use for them, but if we can it would still be prudent to save them.

      Furthermore, just because we don't have the resources to restore the environment to how it was before, eliminating all of the i

      • by Aboroth (1841308)
        No, I don't really feel bad about a retarded bird going extinct because of other people's mistakes. I'd like to see it survive, but I'm saving my empathy for things that matter.

        Supposing that there is a practical and good reason to keep them around (other than helping soothe our conscience), such as genetic diversity, then that should be the point that conservationists START their rants with when they try to get people to help out. Listening to people tell me how bad humans suck, and how awful we are, and
    • Yeah it's dumb, also it's into some kinky inter species shit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T1vfsHYiKY [youtube.com]
    • by PhilF39 (1909674)
      I don't know much about the kakapo, but changes we make to an ecosystem sometimes affect it in surprising ways. For many years, the alligator was fair game--in a quite literal sense--in the Florida Everglades. The meat was good and the leather was highly valued for boots, purses, belts, and other items. Plus, alligators were a dangerous nuisance. "They'd none of them be missed," as Ko-Ko of Titipu might say. Surprisingly, as the alligator population shrunk, so did the population of white-tailed deer.
  • Making the deoderant is only the first step. The real trick will be getting the birds to buy it and use it. I guess if they have commercials showing how the smelly birds don't get the girls, it will convince them to buy the deoderant. Kind of like the Axe commercials, but with Kiwis in it.
  • This type of thing always has unintended consequences. I bet the birds use smell to locate or attract mates. They'll apply the deodorant, no more baby birds, they go extinct. The researchers will shrug, say 'we didn't see that coming', and start working on their next grant: snorkels for manatees maybe.
  • Hopefully, this will make for some interesting and comical new Old Spice commercials!
  • Okay, you've got yourself a predator/prey situation and the best solution you can come up with is a feeble attempt to artificially mask the prey? I suppose a more obvious and cheaper alternative, say, using the bird scent as bait to trap the predators escaped the geniuses at this agency.

  • It's almost always a shame when an animal is introduced into a new environment. Except the pheasant. The pheasant is awesome.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    that it isn't going to help the kiwi in the long run, but you must remember, the kiwi is the symbol of national pride here. I'm sure you americans would have no problem spending squillions if the opportunity presented itself to retain the bald eagle.

  • So we're going to remove any incentive for these birds to evolve by deodorizing them? It's highly unlikely we'll be able to deodorize every bird all the time, so there will be birds that we miss. Only the birds we miss, and miss often, will be under pressure to evolve. This is a significantly smaller population. Evolution only works well on large populations. So this species will be significantly less likely to evolve, which means the most likely scenario is humans deodorizing these birds for the rest of ti

    • By introducing odor-free birds, you've created a new species, also very rare and hence endangered. Instead of one endangered species, you now have two; the problem has just been made twice as bad.

      Of course, the sort of people who most loudly seek to preserve species are the same sort that wouldn't think a man-made species has any value and should be preserved. Species such as GMO foods.

      • by atmtarzy (1267802)

        Unless this odor is a significant component of mating (to the point where birds with odor won't mate with birds without), removing it won't create a new species, at least by the (objective) biological definition of a species. It simply forces an adaptation onto an existing species. Preliminary testing on small populations should be done to ensure the adaptation actually benefits the species so that no unintended side-effects surprise us later. So unless this situation is more complex (eg reproductive rates

  • One thing that is not mentioned is the importance of smell to a kiwi. This species evolved in the total absence of mammals, and as a consequence has developed many features and behaviours that mimic those of mammals. One feature is their keen sense of smell, which is unusual for a bird. Their nostrils are at the tip of their long bill, rather than at the base, and they hunt for invertebrates by smell. They are also territorial, and mark their territory with strong-smelling faeces. They may be the only birds
  • Please, for the love of all that's sane, listen to Bob the Angry Flower...

  • Looks like it's time to take the gene samples and archive recordings of them because we need something to program the clone based replicants with in about 180 years.
  • by dheltzel (558802) on Friday September 24, 2010 @10:07PM (#33694402)
    Instead of deodorizing the birds, they should just make a synthetic version of the smell and spray it all around the island, confusing the predators because the smell is everywhere.
  • Did they try training dogs to kill the rats and cats.
    And, train them to NOT kill the birds.

    I did not read the article.

    Tim S.
  • You can donate to these guys: http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz/ [kakaporecovery.org.nz]
  • by FrankHS (835148)

    Here is a video of Douglas Adams (of hitchhikers fame) talking about the kakapo and why they are endangered. The Kakapo part starts at 3:00 into the video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3HR6mtkPP4&feature=related [youtube.com]

  • Or...you can just round them up and place them in a protected area to save the bird population from becoming extinct, like most other animals, and separate them from having predators....that would probably be cheaper and less intrusive to the bird then spraying them all with axe body spray!

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