Critically Endangered Takahe Released onto Auckland Island

One of New Zealand’s rarest native birds, the takahē, has been released on Motutapu Island in the heart of Auckland.

Pair of takahe released at Motutapu Island

There are only some 260 Takahe alive today. Photo credit: New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC).

There are only 260 takahē in the world and nine were released on Motutapu Island. Motutapu is a pest free island half an hour by ferry from downtown Auckland. Takahē were once widespread throughout New Zealand but have been brought to the brink of extinction by predators, particularly stoats, and the destruction of their habitat. The release is a major milestone in work DOC is doing in partnership with Mitre 10, aimed at securing the survival of this critically endangered native bird.

Takahē brought from Te Anau

The takahē were transported almost the length of the country. Their journey began at the Burwood Bush Takahē Rearing Unit near Te Anau. The birds were loaded into transportation boxes and driven to Queenstown by Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers who run the Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue programme.

volunteers release takahe at Motutapu

Volunteers release takahe on Motutapu Island.

At Queenstown Airport the takahē joined passengers on board a regular Air New Zealand flight to Auckland, as part of the airline’s sponsorship arrangement with DOC which includes providing air transport for the department’s translocation programmes. From Auckland Airport the nine takahē travelled by road to Devonport and then by DOC boat to Motutapu. They were released into native forest planted by volunteers from the Motutapu Restoration Trust.

Thought extinct until 1948

Takahē were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in the Fiordland National Park 64 years ago. Dr Geoffrey Orbell rediscovered the flightless bird, deep in the Murchison Mountains, on 20 November 1948. The work to save takahē has involved gathering ‘excess’ eggs from the Murchison Mountains and hatching them at the Burwood Bush unit. Chicks reared at the unit were then released onto pest free islands where they have been safe from stoats. This has led to an increase in takahē numbers.

Pest free islands

Pest free islands where takahē have been released – Kapiti, Mana, Maud and Tiritiri Matangi – are now running out of room for takahē. A new site, free of predators and with a suitable habitat, is needed to enable the takahē population to continue growing. Motutapu fits the bill perfectly. It and neighbouring Rangitoto – the two islands are joined by a short causeway – were declared pest free on August 27 last year. Four takahē were released on Motutapu to mark the pest free declaration.

Motutapu’s grass and native forest provide a good home for takahē and the island is big enough to hold up to 20 breeding pair of takahē. This will create the largest takahē population outside Fiordland, a crucial step in securing the future of this critically endangered bird.

Mitre 10 and DOC have worked together to save takahē since 2005. Mitre 10 has provided more than half a million dollars for takahē conservation work in this period. This year DOC and Mitre 10 signed a new partnership agreement that runs until 2015 and will see Mitre 10 more than double its financial contribution to the Takahē Recovery Programme. Mitre 10 is running activities in its 100-store network over the next few months highlighting the takahē’s critically endangered status. They will also give people an opportunity to lend a hand to raise money to save takahē.

Background information

Mitre 10 has been working in partnership with DOC to save takahē since 2005, providing more than half a million dollars for this work to date.

Takahē fact file

  • An adult takahē is about the size of a hen – 50 cm high – and weighs three kilograms.
  • Their shelter is also their food. Takahē eat mostly tussock.
  • The closest relative of the takahē is the pūkeko. Takahē are stouter with stubbier legs, have a heavier beak and shield and unlike pūkeko have no ability to fly.
  • A takahē is far more colourful than a pūkeko, with its feathers ranging from deep blue through turquoise to olive green. Pūkeko are mainly black and blue.
  • Takahē have wings which are no good for flying but are used for courting and showing their dominance.
  • Takahē lay their eggs on a raised nest made of tussock grass making the eggs and chicks highly vulnerable to stoats.
  • Mating pairs of takahē produce one to three eggs each season. Of these 80% hatch.
  • Both parents incubate the eggs for 30 days and feed the chicks until they are three months old.
  • Takahē chicks stay with their parents until they are a year or sometimes two years old.
  • Naturally occurring takahē populations are only found in the Murchison Mountains in the Fiordland National Park.
  • With such a small population takahē are vulnerable to extinction particularly if there is a disease outbreak or an increase in predator numbers.

Originally published in Wildlife Extra in November 2012.

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