By Julie Harvey, Takahē Advocacy Ranger.
There are takahē wandering in the wild in Kahurangi National Park! This was the first thought that popped into my head this morning.
This is so remarkable as they weren’t there over a month ago; in fact, they haven’t been there for over 100 years! Thanks to many years of a pioneering recovery programme and months of operational planning, 18 takahē are now roaming the tussock grasslands of Gouland Downs on the Heaphy Track.
With the takahē population now growing at over 10% per year, our recovery programme has the ‘nice to have’ problem of needing to find new suitable grassland homes for the birds. Kahurangi National Park is hoped to be the first of many new homes and if successful, it will represent the second wild population of takahē.
Moving 18 takahē from the edge of the Fiordland National Park, up the length of the South Island, to the remote inner Kahurangi National Park, was no easy feat. The day not only involved our DOC team, but also members from Ngāi Tahu and Manawhenua ki Mohua, and representatives from our partners Fulton Hogan, Mitre 10, New Zealand National Parks and Conservation Foundation and Air New Zealand.
The birds received an initial blessing from Sir Tipene O’Regan of Ngāi Tahu at Burwood Takahē Centre before starting the journey to Queenstown Airport. It was great to work alongside Air New Zealand to organise a direct flight for the special passengers from Queenstown to Nelson. Senior Ranger Glen Greaves went with the birds on their big move:
“The service on board the flight was fantastic, with our own flight attendants, and the world famous Cookie Time cookies. By the end, the entire cabin had the kind of special aroma that only 18 large herbivores in a confined space could produce!
After a smooth flight, the precious cargo were whisked off to their awaiting helicopters. For 15 of the birds, it was a direct flight to the Gouland Downs and freedom. The rest of us, (and one family of takahē) went to Onetahua Marae for a very special welcome to the area. Ngāi Tahu representatives handed over guardianship of their taonga to Manawhenua ki Mohua, the three Golden Bay iwi.
Following the blessing, the remaining takahē were released by representatives of our national partner Fulton Hogan, official supplier Mitre10, Manawhenua ki Mohua, and Ngāti Waewae. It was a hugely humbling experience for all involved, and something very different to any other takahē release we have done.” – Glen.
Takahē Ranger Jason Van de Wetering has spent two years planning the where, why, when and how of this historic transfer and will be monitoring the birds’ movements over the coming months to see how the birds settle into their new home:
“It’s hard to believe it’s actually happened…..the release was delayed twice and there were so many aspects to co-ordinate, the hardest being the birds’ biology (breeding and moulting) and weather which were both out of our control! It’s been a long time coming, but it was all worth it – to see those birds head out into their new home was a fantastic feeling.” – Jason.
The rangers will be closely monitoring the movements of the takahē and pending positive results (low dispersal levels and a high level of survival) a further 12 birds will join them in the coming months.
Last month’s transfer and re-introduction is a huge achievement for species conservation but our work is not over yet. In the event that the Gouland Downs area is found unsuitable by the birds, or even if the population does establish, the current population growth rate will reach capacity quickly and we will need to start looking for further sites to house large wild populations of takahē.
Check out our transfer story from start to finish (originally profiled on DOC’s Instagram):
You can help support the Takahē Recovery Team with their goal of returning takahē to the wild by sponsoring one of the six Kahurangi takahē. For more information, visit our website.