Concentrations of calcium and 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (vitamin D3) in plasma of wild kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus) living on two islands in New Zealand

This preliminary study had the objectives of describing the concentrations of ionised calcium and 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25(OH)D3) in the blood of wild kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus) living on two islands in New Zealand, and to determine the effects of supplementary feeding on these blood parameters.

Blood samples were obtained from 33 kākāpō living on two offshore islands during routine health checks in 2015. Birds on Hauturu were sampled in May (n=5) and birds on Whenua Hou were sampled in July (n=15) and November (n=26). Of the birds sampled on Whenua Hou in November, 15 received supplementary food prior to sampling. Samples were analysed for pH, and concentrations of ionised calcium, total calcium, phosphorous, total protein, albumin, globulin, uric acid and 25(OH)D3.

Concentrations of ionised calcium did not differ between unsupplemented birds on the two islands, nor between supplemented (median 1.17 (95% CI=1.12–1.20) mmol/L) and unsupplemented (median 1.09 (95% CI=1.08–1.14) mmol/L) birds sampled in November on Whenua Hou (p>0.05), and were comparable with published normal ranges for other psittacines. Concentrations of 25(OH)D3 did not differ between unsupplemented birds on the two islands (p>0.05), but were higher in supplemented (median 8.00 (95% CI=4.76–8.45) nmol/L) than unsupplemented (median 0.00 (95% CI=−0.16–0.48) nmol/L) birds on Whenua Hou (p<0.001). All values were much lower than published ranges for healthy psittacines. There was no difference between male and female birds on Whenua Hou for any parameter measured (p>0.05).

The calcium status of the kākāpō in this study was comparable to other wild psittacines, however concentrations of 25(OH)D3 were much lower. The concentrations of 25(OH)D3 may be within the normal range for the species, however further data are required to confirm this. The significant increase in concentrations of 25(OH)D3 in supplementary fed birds suggests that this food was providing more of the nutrient than the wild diet at that time of year, although the effects of this are unknown. Further investigation is required into the calcium and vitamin D3 status of kākāpō, across a wider range of locations, seasons and ages. This would help define normal ranges for these parameters, allow interpretation in clinically abnormal individuals, and guide the refinement of supplementary foods. This information would, therefore, assist the future conservation management of this critically endangered species.