How do you stop one of the world’s most intelligent birds from being hit and killed by cars? You build them a gym, of course.
Conservationists in New Zealand have been installing kea "gyms" in a bid to distract the endangered alpine parrots and keep their notoriously voracious minds occupied, in the hope that it will stop them from hanging around roads where they are at risk of being hit by cars.
The insatiable curiosity of the vastly intelligent birds has meant that whenever humans have entered their alpine world, the parrots have been drawn to them. Unfortunately, this often means that they have shown too much of an interest in roads and cars that traverse their habitat.
Over the past few years, for example, construction workers in the Milford Sound region of the South Island have recorded the birds moving traffic cones into the middle of the road at night, when the workers had gone home.
Experts think that the birds were probably just playing around with the cones, but some have not ruled out the possibility that the kea were deliberately placing them into the road in order to make cars stop, allowing the birds to beg passing tourists for food.
The problem with this is that not only are the birds relying on humans for food, but also that they are hanging around roads where they are likely to be in danger of being hit by moving vehicles. In fact, it is thought that dozens of the endangered birds are hit and killed on the roads in New Zealand every year, and so the gyms are part of the effort to distract the animals and keep them up in the hills and away from people.
The installations consist of a series of swings, ladders, climbing frames, and spinning floatation devices, and are changed regularly to prevent the parrots from losing interest. So far, they seem to be a success and have been used in other parts of the country in order to distract the birds from damaging forestry equipment as well as at a power plant in a bid to stop the birds from tearing up cars in the car park.
The kea – recently crowned victorious in New Zealand's notorious Bird of the Year competition – is the world’s only truly alpine parrot, and lives in the mountains across a whopping 3.5 million hectares (8,650,000 acres) of New Zealand. But despite this enormous range, the birds are now nationally classified as endangered. In the past, it is thought that there were hundreds of thousands of kea living along the lofty peaks, but now they number between just 3,000 and 7,000 individuals.