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Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg

Tape, Glue, and New Kakapo

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Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg

When I wrote about the kakapo—a chubby, flightless parrot that looks like a parakeet crossed with an owl crossed with a Muppet—last year, a group of the birds had recently arrived at their new home on New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island. The island had been cleared of accidentally-introduced rats and other predators, and conservationists hoped that Little Barrier would be a safe place to establish a population of the critically endangered birds (at the time, there were only 125 left) that wouldn’t need constant human babysitting (in some of the populations, conservation personnel have to provide the kakapo with food).

The birds didn’t breed in 2012, and no one was really expecting them to so soon after the transfer. As I finished working on my story in the fall of 2013, breeding season was still a few months off, and Deidre Vercoe Scott, who is the manager of the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Program, told me that from December through February, her team would be closely watching the birds to see “whether or not they are keen” to mate. 

Good news came early last month when the team announced that one of the island’s three female kakapo, named Heather, was found nesting with three fertile eggs, and several females from the group of birds living on Codfish Island, at the other end of the country, were also discovered nesting. It was the first time that any of the birds had laid an egg since 2011. 

A few weeks later, the first kakapo born in three years hatched from her egg, but not without incident. The egg, which belonged to a kakapo named Lisa, was found in the nest partially crushed. Fortunately, the egg’s inner membrane was still intact and senior kakapo ranger Jo Ledington was able to piece the outer shell back together with some tape and glue. The chick, dubbed Lisa One, hatched on February 28, happy and healthy. Isn’t she cute?

Four other eggs from Codfish Island also hatched, and just last week, one of Heather’s eggs hatched on Little Barrier Island. Some of the chicks are being kept in incubators and hand-fed until they can return to their groups, and two others have been fostered out to kakapo moms who didn’t lay viable eggs. It’s great news all around for the birds.

If you want to see more of these cute little guys in action, here’s one of the finest moments in nature filmmaking, wherein a kakapo attempts to mate with a zoologist’s head while Stephen Fry looks on laughing. 

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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