The Takahe Recovery Programme has been running for more than 30 years Photo Kerstin Schmidt DOC

Takahe population soaring

by Ann van Engelen

Takahe may be flightless, but their population is flying high with the official count reaching 418 after a record breeding season that produced an estimated 65 juveniles.

“The population reaching a high is great news for takahe, which was considered extinct until rediscovered in 1948. It demonstrates what can be achieved when we give nature a helping hand,” said the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage.

The Department of Conservation’s annual takahe count at the end of September showed the population had now passed the 400 mark for the first time in at least a century. Breeding pair numbers have more than doubled in the past six years, from 66 in 2013 to 130. The dedicated DOC staff work hands-on with programme partners Ngai Tahu and Fulton Hogan.

“The Takahe Recovery team carefully matches pairs based on birds’ rarity and relatedness, to optimise genetic diversity and breeding productivity.

The TRP has developed smart ways of preparing juvenile birds at the Burwood Rearing Centre near Te Anau for successful release into the wild.

It is amazing seeing the birds here in their natural tussock habitat. Many of the offspring from pairs at sanctuary sites elsewhere in New Zealand are used to boost wild populations but need to learn several important skills first. At around five months old, they are transferred to the Burwood Takahe Centre and placed with foster takahe parents, who spend the winter and spring training their unnaturally large brood how to cope with heavy snow, feed on tussock, and locate and dig up the rhizomes of the hypolepis fern.

“They stay with their foster parents while the pair raise chicks in the next breeding season and learn parenting skills from them so they can go on to successfully raise their own chicks.

“As takahe numbers rise, the challenge is to identify more suitable sites with low predator numbers to establish more wild populations in the bird’s natural South Island tussock lands home.”