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Karen Bayly

Author of fantasy, sci-fi, horror 

Kiwis, Kakapos and Steampunk

Although I'm Australian and we have a friendly rivalry with our Kiwi brothers and sisters, I can say wholeheartedly that I love New Zealand. I love the landscape, the people, the sauvignon blanc, the hokey pokey ice cream, and the Steampunk festival. But as a huge fan of birds, I adore their birdlife.

Kakapos

One particular bird - the kakapo - has been in the news lately. First though, a brief natural history of the kakapo. It is the world’s only flightless parrot as well as the world's heaviest parrot. It is nocturnal and herbivorous. Kakapo are visibly sexually dimorphic. Not only are males and females different sizes with females being smaller than males, females have a narrower and proportionally longer beak, more slender and pinkish grey legs and feet, and a proportionally longer tail.


Sirocco, a male Kakapo - see more at https://www.doc.govt.nz/sirocco

Kakapos are the only parrot to have a polygynous lek breeding system. A lek refers to an area where males aggregate to display and impress females. Kakapo males dig bowls in the ground which they sit in to give their mating call. The call itself is a series of loud low frequency booms (that can carry for up to 5 kilometres with a good wind) followed by a higher pitched series of cheeps. In addition, the bowl the male sits in functions as an amplifier to help project the call. Females hear the call and travel to the lek where the male  performs a side-to-side rocking display while making clicking noises with his beak. If she thinks he’s a good sort, she will mate with him, then disappear to lay her eggs. Needless to say, males take no part in raising the chicks.

Hear a kakapo calling here... Kakapo video

This amazing bird is on the critically endangered list. It was almost wiped out during European colonisation because of the introduction of predators such as cats, rats, ferrets, and stoats. Now, most kakapo only exist on two predator-free islands where they are closely monitored.  The total known adult population is 147 living individuals… plus 70 or so! According to a recent report, the kakapos had an unusually long breeding season this year resulting in over 70 chicks hatching. Nature being nature, not all these chicks will make it to adulthood, but the overall population is likely to increase significantly.

Read more here and watch a video of the cute little fluff balls.

The other piece of news is also about a kakapo chick. This little critter, known by the name Espy 1B, had a large soft lump on its head. When examined, this limp was found be the brain bulging out through an unfused area of its skull. As this kind of malformation is life-threatening, a team of veterinarians at Massey University decided to operate and made history by performing the first successful brain surgery on a bird. Espy1B is now doing fine.

Read more here and see a video of the operation (if you dare!).

It's F-word time!

Yes, a Festival is coming up soon. The Steampunk Festival NZ is on Thursday, May 30th - Sunday, June 2nd  2019. Now celebrating 10 years, this annual festival in Oamaru, New Zealand delivers fun and adventure for all those inclined toward a world of reimagined Victoriana, fantastic machines and fabulous fashions.

In a cruel twist of fate, my steampunk-inspired novel “Fortitude” won’t be published until after the Festival. Such is life. Meanwhile, here’s a snippet…

Good News, Bad News: I love a good Dystopian Tale ...

...and I enjoy a great horror story but I often wish the news in my social media feeds or on the television wasn't quite so doom and gloom. To counteract this, I'm always on the lookout for stories that make me feel like humanity has a chance, that we can beat the monsters which plague us. And I'm making it my mission to share these stories with you.

So the good news is out there but first ...

The Bad News: Trachoma - you wouldn't wish it on your enemies

Photo from Community Eye Health

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world. It is linked to poverty and lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and is spread by flies and human touch. It starts as a bacterial infection and, if left untreated, causes the eyelashes to turn in against the eyeball.  The eyelashes feel like thorns (ouch!) scratching the surface of the eye, causing great pain, increased opacity of the cornea, and finally resulting in irreversible blindness. 1.9 million people around the world are now needlessly without sight because they didn’t receive the necessary treatment.

Once prevalent in the west, the fight against this entirely preventable disease continues in poorer communities on Earth.

Read more about trachoma here and here.

The Good News: Malawi is the second country to eliminate trachoma

Photo from www.endtrachoma.org

Ghana was the first country to beat trachoma. In 2000, around 2.8 million were at risk of the disease. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognised that the risk was now zero.

Malawi is the second country to win the fight against trachoma. In 2014, 8 million Malawians were at risk of losing their sight to the disease. Today, the vast majority of the population are no longer at risk of trachoma related blindness, and the Malawi Government health system is strong enough to manage any future cases. More about it here. (Note: You might remember that Malawi is where Madonna set up a non-profit charity plus it is the birthplace of her four adopted children.)

Thanks to Future Crunch for alerting me to this information. It's a relief to know that there is still good news out there.

Book Recommendation: The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

It's no secret that I love Nordic Noir and I'm partial to stories in an historical setting (real or imagined). Niklas Natt och Tag* has married both genres admirably.  I found the story engrossing and extremely uncomfortable at times. One character's tale was so depraved and horrifying that I avoided reading it before bed and breathed a loud sigh of relief when it was done. (You have been warned!) The characters are memorable, if not always likeable, and the moral questions tended towards haunting rather than being forced down the reader's throat. I suspect I will think about this one for a long time.

* Natt och Tag = Night and Day. Best surname ever IMHO, belonging to a line of Swedish nobles  and officially known since the year 1280.

 

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