New Zealand’s kea escaped to the mountains to avoid being shot at by people?

New Zealand's alpine parrot the kea

This is another story of the dysfunctionality in the relationship between humans and animals. The kea or alpine parrot is considered to be intelligent, mischievous and inquisitive. They are known for attacking the windshield wipers of cars visiting the mountain region where they inhabit. One was even caught stealing a tourist’s passport.

New Zealand's alpine parrot the kea

New Zealand’s alpine parrot the kea. Image by Montevideo from Pixabay

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And they are also adaptable. Perhaps their intelligence provides them with this ability to adapt because it is now believed that they are generalists in terms of their liking for a particular habitat. In other words, they can live in the mountains or habitats near sea level. Having learned this, the scientists tried to figure out why they now live in the mountains and they speculate that it is because they were shot at. They escaped the anthropogenic landscapes in which they lived by which I mean being attacked by people.

This is because there was a time when there was a bounty on their heads. They had become notorious for attacking and occasionally killing sheep. This annoyed New Zealand’s sheep farmers leading to the government putting up a bounty on kea beaks. The policy continued for about 100 years until 1970. Over that period an estimated 100,000 kea were killed by farmers leaving New Zealand with a conservation problem with only around 3000-7000 birds remaining in the country.

The mass killing of this species of parrot put a huge amount of pressure on them and it is speculated that this aggressively hostile human activity forced them to escape to the mountains, removing themselves from New Zealand’s farmers with guns. Although, the experts need more information to make that connection but it appears to make sense bearing in mind their intelligence.

And they have used their intelligence to adapt, as mentioned. They also believe that the challenges presented by this move to the mountains may have enhanced their intelligence and helped to develop the unique behavioural repertoire including problem-solving abilities.

Going forwards, they are facing further difficulties because they now have to contend with global warming, the result of more damaging human activity. Animals living in mountainous regions tend to disappear once the glaciers have gone. Research indicates that mountain-dwelling animals suffer as a result of global warming which leads to the second conclusion that the kea may return to regions near sea level. They may find some other solution to try and live in a hostile human world because of anthropogenic effects.