The Kagu is a flightless bird with grey plumage; its pale colouring has led to the name of 'ghost of the forest' by local people (4). The sexes are similar in appearance with mainly ash-grey plumage apart from black barring on the wings that is only visible when they are out-stretched (5). There is a prominent crest of feathers on the back of the head, which may be erected in display, and the legs and bill are orange in colour (5).
Kagu pairs occupy territories that are 10 to 28 hectares in size (2). They are active during the day, sleeping on nests at night (4). A single chick is raised each year, although in particularly dry years even this may not be possible (4). Kagus feed on a variety of invertebrates such as worms and snails and even some small vertebrates such as lizards (2).
The loss of much of New Caledonia's native forests has caused the numbers of kagus to decline. Forests have been cleared for timber and to make way for agriculture and these birds have also traditionally been hunted for their meat. Kagus are island birds that have evolved in isolation and in the absence of terrestrial predators; when Europeans first arrived on New Caledonia they bought with them rats, cats and dogs and these flightless birds represented easy prey (4). Today, dogs may represent the most important threat to the survival of this species; in 1993, dogs killed 17 out of 21 radio-collared birds within the reserve of Pic Nigua alone (2).
Kagus are protected within the Riviere Bleue, and dogs are controlled in this area (2). They are also found within the Reserve Speciale de Faune et de Flore de la Novdela, where there is no dog control in place (2). In 1992, Birdlife International initiated a Recovery Programme for this species. A captive breeding programme, run by the Southern Province and the Societe Caledonienne d'Ornithologie, has been in place since 1978 (4) and juveniles have been released into the Riviere Bleue Park with some success (4). Dog attacks are difficult to control despite legislation and education of owners, but remain a priority for the secure future of this species (2), which is now the national bird of New Caledonia (4).
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