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For several years now, Gill has been fascinated with a creature she discovered, (where else?), on the internet. It is the Kakapo– a flightless, rather large, portly parrot that is native to New Zealand. A documentary was done about a specific member of the species by the name of Richard Henry. Yes, a very British name for  a bird found by a British scientist. At the time of his discovery, his species was thought to be almost extinct.

Ever since then, Gill has tracked him, read stories about him, virtually stalked him from afar…and if you don’t think stalking an almost extinct bird who lives thousands of miles away doesn’t require super sleuthing abilities, you don’t know anything about detective work…or Gill. Naturally,  the first thing she said when she heard I was visiting New Zealand  recently was:”Oh, do find Richard Henry and say hello for me! And if you can manage to give him a hug, that would be excellent. This is so exciting!” Vey few comments about the fact that the trip alone is a trip of  a lifetime…however, being the accommodating mother that I am, I did keep her request in mind. Plus, I too think the Kakapo is about the silliest looking bird around. Who wouldn’t want to make his aquaintance?

Shortly before I left on my trip, I did a bit of a Google and found out the distressing news that Richard Henry had passed away, at the ripe old age of 80, a couple of years ago. I felt I had to tell Gill.

“Oh, no! That makes me so sad! I had visions of making his acquaintance at some point!” she said.

“Well, the good news is that they preserved some of his precious DNA so he will live on…”

“Oh, that’s so nice!” said Gill, slightly mollified. But sensing her disappointment at his untimely demise, I vowed to intensify my search for things — anything, really –about the Kakapo.

On the flight to New Zealand, I passed some of the 13-hour flight watching movies — including three parts of Planet Earth with David Attenborough specifically about New Zealand. They were wonderful and helped introduce me to the glories of this faraway country. One of the highlights of the films was a segment about Richard henry.This, of course, heightened my resolve to somehow acknowledge him or bring something home for Gill about him — if necessary, a souvenir t-shirt with his likeness plastered on the front.It has to be said, this wasn’t going to be a great sacrifice on my part since I do collect t-shirts — the sillier, the better. After all, my supply of 20-year old t-shirts from the kids’ teenage rock concerts is growing sparse. The Nine Inch Nails one in particular is a bit tatty…

Well, imagine my excitement when, upon standing in the customs /security line to enter the country(and rummaging through my bag to retrieve the errant bag of nuts that I would have to bin or be arrested), I saw posters about protecting their wildlife and there, amongst the posters, was a huge one of…could it be? Richard Henry? I could hardly believe it. If he was being thus lauded in the airport, it would be simple to find out more about him. At the very least, replicas or images of him would be common and easily available. So I thought.

I was immediately on the hunt.Sherlock Holmes himself would have been proud of the effort I put in on the Kakapo’s account. No stone was left unturned, no souvenir shop left unsearched, no book store ignored in my quest. Usually, when I asked, “Have you ever heard of the New Zealand Kakapo, the flightless parrot?” I got funny looks. I would have thought everyone would know of and revere the bird. Then, I put things in perspective. I mean, how many people here in Canada know what a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak is? Or a pileated woodpecker? So I didn’t become too discouraged.

My quest for Richard Henry’s likeness became my own personal Quest For The Holy Grail in its proportions. I could find nothing! When I thought all was lost, I did find a long-sleeved athletic jacket (size huge) with a small Kakapo on the sleeve. It simply  wouldn’t do so I resumed my sleuthing. As it turns out, I did eventually discover that the picture of Richard Henry that I had thought was on the airport poster was in fact a Kea, another large green parrot that is famous (or infamous) for stealing anything that isn’t nailed down — including your lunch, any rubber strips from your car, etc. This bird’s middle name is ‘trouble’. I found out this particular tidbit when we stopped in a small town for a morning snack and what amounted to “Wanted” posters were plastered all over — warning to be careful of the Keas in the area.They didn’t say “Wanted Dead or Alive”, but I got the idea they were ‘avian non grata’ felons.

I had almost given up –in ignominious defeat — my quest for the Kakapo. Although, during a boat cruise, we were informed that the area we were passing in “Fiordland’ used to be the home of the Kakapo but they are long since gone. So I would have to explain to Gill that I wasn’t able to find him anywhere.

But then, a miracle! I stopped in a store (I can’t say what kind of store or Gill will guess what I found and it’s a surprise for her when she visits this summer) and found a treasure. Then, unbelievably, in the airport store in Queenstown, I found another item! You have never seen any tourist as proud (or as possessive) of a souvenir in your life! I felt my mission was a success and I can hold my head up proudly when I greet Gill this summer. Well done me…and, Gill, no clues are forthcoming.

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