Kea (Nestor notabilis) are the world’s only alpine parrots, and recent research suggests that they have sophisticated social and physical intelligence.
Kea are endangered, with a population estimated between 1,000 and 5,000 individuals. This is in part due to their curiosity, which results in deaths from lead poisoning as a result of chewing on human-made objects such as old building fixtures and lead-head nails. Lead poisoning causes reduced cognitive function, impairs development, and suppresses immune function.
Other human-made objects can also be harmful to kea. This is particularly true for populations that are in contact with humans and may be fed human food, as some of these contain toxic substances (such as chocolate) or where kea may get involved in accidents involving human-made objects (such as getting run over by motor vehicles).
Kea are also threatened by invasive predators such as feral cats and stoats, that can dramatically reduce nestling survival. Other risks threatening kea populations include climate change, avian diseases, and illicit wildlife trafficking.
Our research on kea laughter is carried out both with wild populations throughout the South Island of New Zealand, and with captive individuals held at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. This allows us to study kea both in their natural environments, but also under controlled conditions where we have a stable population of individuals.
We hope that our research on kea will spark public interest in this species and its conservation. There are many ways in which the public can help the kea, for example, by making a donation or becoming a sponsor, volunteer, or member of the Kea Conservation Trust. More information on this is available on their website.