Deodorant May Help Save Stinky Endangered Birds

new zealand kiwi photo
Photo via Flickr

For most of history, life on New Zealand was pretty easy for the island's native bird species -- until the arrival of humans and the invasive species they brought with them, that is. These birds had no natural predators on land to worry about, which may have caused some of them, like the kiwi, to develop a peculiar foul-smelling quality not found in their continental counterparts. Nowadays, this musk makes it quite easy for animals, like cats, to track them down for an easy meal -- which has inspired one biologist to think of a novel solution that may help give endangered birds a fighting chance: deodorant to mask their body odor.

Jim Briskie, an associate professor from Canterbury University, suspects that the native birds' unpleasant scent is contributing to their dramatic decline in numbers, since it could be luring invasive predators their way. He believes that birds, like New Zealand's iconic kiwi, never learned to dampen-down the scent of their pruning wax like those feathered counterparts living in places with natural predators -- and it has put them at quite the disadvantage now that the island is full of unwelcome bird-hungry guests.

He says that kiwis have a smell that's similar to mushrooms or ammonia, making them easy to find for predators. Another bird, the kakapo parrot, is said to reek "like musty violin cases" -- one reason, perhaps, that the flightless birds have become endangered. But help may be on the way. According to the Dominion Post, Briskie was recently awarded a grant of $440,000 to futhur his theory and help him develop a solution to the problem.

"Down the line if we do find some species are particularly smelly or vulnerable, perhaps I can design a deodorant for kiwis."

In an attempt to prove his theory, Briskie has taken to familiarizing himself with the peculiar body-odors of the various native birds, collecting samples of their pruning wax. Sure, it may not be the most glamorous of jobs, but his efforts paid off. He says that New Zealand birds do indeed have a stronger smell than those found elsewhere, though he's awaiting lab test results to confirm it.

Once it has been established that the birds' foul smell is contributing to their decline, a specially developed deodorant may be just the thing to keep them from extinction. This, of course, will inevitably lead to a whole new set of questions -- roll-on, stick, or spray?

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