Stress free takahē catching

Department of Conservation —  06/08/2013

By Phil Marsh, Takahe Site Liaison and Relationship Manager

Takahē may look like ‘big blue chooks’, but try catching one and you will discover they are much faster and can out manoeuvre the most skilled bird wrangler.

A takahē watches on Mana Island.

A takahē watching the proceedings with interest

Enter Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue and some keen volunteers, a special island and an opportunity to help this iconic and critically endangered bird.

Takahē are critically endangered, and there are only 54 breeding pairs of takahē held at safe sites—mostly predator-free islands. Mana Island is one of these, and Jeff Hall is the ranger with 10 pairs of takahē in his care.

To keep the takahē population genetically healthy, birds must regularly be shifted between breeding sites, and therein lies the challenge.

Mana Island’s re-vegetation programme is looking good, but it’s making it more difficult to corner the wily birds. In 2011 things came to a head when visiting takahē rangers failed to catch all of the birds required. A new strategy was needed and a plan was hatched. The result—a 10 metre by 10 metre capture pen filled with something that most takahē can’t resist… takahē pellets!

The takahē volunteer team on Mana Island.

The volunteer team of Kim, Michelle and David, and takahē capture pen

Building the pens needed materials and labour, which is where Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue came in. Mitre 10 have partnered with the Takahē Recovery Programme for over seven years now. As well as providing financial support and helping to raise the profile of takahē, Mitre 10 staff also enjoy hands-on involvement with takahē conservation projects.

Bright’s Mitre 10 in Mana supplied all the materials required for four new capture pens. Mitre 10 MEGA staff, Kim Olsen from Masterton and Michelle Ledbury from Kapiti, joined DOC Ranger Jeff Hall and volunteer David Marsh—a farmer from Wairarapa—to lend a helping hand.

Three takahē looking for grubs. Photograph by Stuart McCaw.

A trio of takahē

The pen building team spent three days putting in the posts and netting needed to get the pens up and running. The pens are built with a front gate that is open for most of the year. The birds get used to walking into it and feeding from their hopper without feeling threatened. When it’s time for a takahē health check, a change of transmitter, or to band chicks, the front gate of the capture pen is closed. Once they’re in the pen they usually can’t jump high enough to get back out. The huge advantage is that the birds catch themselves in the pen and any management necessary can then be completed with minimal stress on the birds (and the rangers) involved.

And the Mitre 10 staff and volunteers? Well, they all know what it’s like to be marooned, as the day they were due to head off the island the sea was too rough for them to depart. Two days later they finally got off, but not without anticipating a return journey some time in the future to check out how well their pens are operating!

A takahē with transmitter.

A takahē with transmitter


Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue

The Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue works in partnership with DOC’s Takahē Recovery Programme and is committed to ensuring the survival, growth and security of takahē populations throughout New Zealand. Find out more about this partnership on the DOC website.

One response to Stress free takahē catching

  1. 
    Hugh gardiner 06/08/2013 at 4:18 pm

    Great to see Mana Island continues to be a key site for Takahe. 10 of only 54 pairs
    ( 18.5% ) is impressive. Good plan but I’m not sure if stress free takahe catching is really possible!