Takahē populations reach 300 for the first time in decades, but new conservation innovations are needed to save the species.
Sometimes in life, modest milestones can feel like huge victories. Such is the case for conservation efforts aimed at protecting New Zealand’s South Island Takahē. Takahē are large flightless rails that live in the New Zealand grasslands. Their populations were never large, and for 50 years the species was believed to be extinct until rediscovery in 1948 when there were an estimated 200-400 individuals. Now conservationists are celebrating the return to a population size of 300 individuals, but this is not the end of the storyline. More work needs to be done.
The rediscovery of the South Island Takahē in 1948 made international news, but the species was not safe in its remote South Island habitat. The introduction of invasive predators such as stoats and invasive Red Deer rapidly decreased the bird population. In the 1980s approximately 100 wild Takahē lived in the New Zealand’s Murchison Mountains. The dramatic decline was a warning sign for conservationists.
Noticing the calamitous effects of invasive stoats, the New Zealand Department of Conservation stepped in to save the large, flightless bird and begin a captive breeding program. Takahē typically lay multiple eggs, but in the wild only one survives. Conservationists stepped in and took all but one fertile egg from the nest, leaving one egg for the parents to hatch while the remaining eggs were cared for in captivity. The following spring, the captive-bred birds would be released into the wild.
In 2011, after decades of using this system of captive breeding, research showed that captive-bred Takahē were unsuccessful at rearing their own chicks. Now, the Department of Conservation uses predator-proof fences to protect Takahē and support them in raising their chicks safely before the hatchlings are released into the wild.
Although the species has reached a milestone of 300 individuals, new conservation efforts and ideas are still in the works. Stoats are one of the leading causes of Takahē population decline and in 2007 wiped out 40% of the wild population. Finding long-term solutions to the invasive species problem in New Zealand is vital to the continued population growth of the rare Takahē. Continued efforts to save the species will be boosted as New Zealand works towards its Predator Free 2050 goal. For now, conservationists around the world celebrate this milestone for the Takahē.
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