Computer game can help save the Kakapo bird from extinction

Posted: 7 August 2011

A very rare flightless parrot, one of which became a global YouTube star after being featured on British television, can now be helped to recover from near extinction by a computer game.

The newly-launched Online game SmallWorlds.com will, its creators believe, help save the Kakapo parrot, one of the world’s most critically endangered birds.

Kakapo game

The most famous kakapo parrot, named Sirocco, shot to internet stardom in 2009 when a YouTube video of him ‘mating’ with British zoologist Mark Carwadine went viral and was viewed over three million times. English comedian Stephen Fry, co-host of the BBC documentary and witness to the event, described it as "one of the funniest things I have ever seen."

The beautiful flightless parrot is only found in New Zealand. It is thought to be the oldest living bird in the world. In 1990 there were just 50 birds remaining but, thanks to Kakapo Recovery, there are currently 131.

The internet is again playing a role to help save the birds. This month players of SmallWorlds.com can buy a Sirocco Kakapo item which when worn, transforms players into virtual kakapo, with a donation based on sales being made to Kakapo Recovery. So far players have responded overwhelmingly to the fundraiser.

“Some might be sceptical about how teenagers would respond to a fairly serious message being injected into a game environment, but we are absolutely ecstatic about the response. Within a day of the item’s release one player had created the Kakapo Awareness Gallery with gorgeous paintings that she’d created herself. Others have created kakapo conservation groups and educational centres,” says SmallWorlds marketing manager Nicole Scheid.

“The kakapo is a truly special creature that strikes a chord with people. We knew this issue would be a great way to engage our players in conservation, but we’ve been overwhelmed with how strongly the SmallWorlds audience has rallied behind the cause.”

Kakapo Recovery programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said she was delighted with the interest shown in just the first few days of the Sirocco Kakapo item being available.

“We've been looking at ways to reach a younger audience with the Kakapo Recovery conservation message and we're thrilled to find that there is a huge appetite out there for learning about and supporting kakapo work. Using the right medium to get the Kakapo Recovery story across is key to engaging people and SmallWorlds presents an exciting opportunity for us to link with the 'next generation' of conservationists.”

Launched in 2008, SmallWorlds is a social game world with over 6.5 million registered players. SmallWorlds can be played for free and players earn gold by completing missions which is then spent on customising their avatar, decorating virtual rooms and buying special items.

You can view the real-world Sirocco’s hit YouTube appearance at www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T1vfsHYiKY.

He also has his own Facebook page at www.facebook.com/siroccokakapo.

For more information about Kakapo Recovery, visit www.kakaporecovery.org.nz.