Hamilton Zoo has bred its first kea chick in 15 years, after being given permission to boost the numbers in captivity.

Only 100 kea are kept in captivity throughout the country in a managed breeding programme, and when Hamilton was given the nod to put first-time parents, Tane (15) and Kowhai (9) to work, numbers had fallen to 89. The pair laid three eggs.

“Four zoos have been asked to each breed a chick this year, if possible,” said Hamilton Zoo director Stephen Standley.

“We were very excited when the recommendation to breed came through, and especially when our birds were quick to respond and produced a healthy chick.

“We destroyed two eggs and replaced them with dummy eggs.”

The zoo did not wait to select the healthiest fledgling because that would mean killing the chicks which were rejected — a move unlikely to be popular with the public.

The remaining egg hatched on September 15, and the chick will take up to 13 weeks to leave the nest so won’t be on show to the public until around mid-December.

Kea pairs bond for life and are the world’s only alpine parrot, with fewer than 5000 remaining in the wild in the South Island’s high country.

High country farmers used to carry cut-down shotguns to shoot kea they claimed were attacking lambs, but that practice was outlawed in 1986.

Federated Farmers high country spokesman Donald Aubrey told the NZ Herald that kea attacks were a known hazard for high-country farmers.

“They target the area around a sheep’s kidneys,” Aubrey said.

“They do that by riding on the back of the sheep and pecking around the spinal region.”