Endangered Parrot Becomes the First Bird in the World to Undergo Brain Surgery


These human surgeons are for the birds. When wildlife rangers discovered a strange lump on a “wild-hatched” parrot’s skull, they took action and got it the best medical attention New Zealand could provide. Now the Massey University medical team behind the resulting operation is declaring it the first of its kind for avian medicine.

Kākāpō recovering well at Wildbase Hospital

The 56-day old kākāpō chick, born with a life-threatening skull deformity, was airlifted from the zoo where it lives to Massey’s Wildbase Hospital for emergency brain surgery last week. The country’s national airline even flew the baby bird, named Espy, for free

“This was only possible because of a national collaboration with vets and conservation workers,” Director of Wildbase Hospital professor Brett Gartrell tells The Guardian. “The plates of its skull had not completely fused and the fontanelle was still open.” Gartrell says the surgery is risky “and the common complications … in humans include permanent brain damage, continued leakage of cerebrospinal fluid and the possibility of meningitis.”

The 56-year-old kakapo, known as Espy 1B, underwent pioneering brain surgery to treat the hole in its skull

A national collective of veterinarians from Auckland Zoo, Wellington Zoo and Dunedin Wildlife Hospital convened to determine that surgery was the best way forward for the chick. Once one of New Zealand’s most common birds, today only 144 of these rare large parrots exist. However, this year 76 kākāpōs were born, a record-breaking breeding season. The surviving birds are beloved in the nation, especially one named Sirocco, who is internet famous.

So far, Espy’s surgery appears to have been a success. The kākāpō is doing well and is back home at Dunedin Wildlife Hospital in the South Island.

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