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Takahē Recovery - Backing the underbird, since 1948
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

Takahē Recovery - Backing the underbird, since 1948

Written by Philip Marsh - Project Lead of Takahē Sanctuary Sites at the Department of Conservation.

“Only four takahe had been found prior to 1898 and it was now supposed to be extinct. That word ‘supposed’ stimulated my boyish sense of adventure.”

These words were all the fuel required for Dr Geoffrey Orbell to become fixated with takahē at a young age. He became the very earliest takahē ranger and his determination highlights the early takahē journey from presumed extinction to remarkable rediscovery. The takahē is a gift that New Zealanders retain today due to one man’s obsession from a young age. 

And what better story can be told when garnering support for the annual Bird of the Year competition than that of the takahē? Lost in 1898 and considered extinct; found again on the 20th of November 1948. This year marks the 75th anniversary since rediscovery, and the continued journey to return takahē to the people.

The takahē recovery programme is the longest running conservation programme in New Zealand. There was a steep learning curve from the moment of rediscovery; from feeding and nutritional requirements and reproductive habits, home ranges to understanding potential threats. The recovery journey led to decades of artificial incubation and international innovations in puppet rearing of chicks, allowing supplementation of the wild population. There were challenges. The stoat predation event in 2007 was a setback that decimated the Murchison Mountains’ population. The realisation that puppet reared takahē were not as successful at raising offspring when compared to parent-raised takahē. The Takahē Recovery journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions for many people over the decades, but has identified the recipe for success.

Information gathered allowed for the expansion of the Burwood Takahē Centre and enabled the establishment of dedicated spaces within sanctuary sites across Aotearoa, such as Zealandia, to ensure a thriving habitat for takahē. Since 2010 takahē have roamed the confines of Zealandia, raising awareness for takahē recovery as well as the odd juvenile. Production is now at a point where returning takahē to the wild is the programme’s priority. 

Predator Free 2050 cannot come soon enough for the takahē. With a population at the 500 mark, the next glass ceiling needs to be smashed for takahē to thrive. Recovery sites are essential, particularly ones that sustain >30 pairs of takahē. Who knows whether they will be successful under current pest control regimes, but the knowledge gained about suitable habitat for future generations will be invaluable. 

Photo by Ian Thomas.

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