For years, the takahē were believed to be extinct. But in 1948, the prehistoric birds were discovered deep in the Murchison Mountains. Ever since then, conservation efforts have been made to ensure their survival and bring their population up. Now, their numbers are close to 500.
The takahē are native to the New Zealand area. These plump, flightless birds are of a deep blue color and have stout, orange legs and strong, red beaks used to peck at leaves and seeds. Their wings are used primarily for attracting mates or showing aggression.
After mammals were introduced to the island they had evolved on, the birds became extremely vulnerable to land predators, which ultimately led to their demise.
The takahē only breed once a year and raise one to two chicks. They live for up to 18 years in the wild and 22 years in sanctuaries. Eggs that are found in the wild have been taken to preservation centers to protect them from rats, cats, and ferrets.
Takahē chicks raised in these centers were exposed to a technique in which conservationists used sock puppets shaped like adult takahē heads. This method helped with breeding later on.
In addition, trapping the invasive mammals helped increase the bird’s population by eight percent each year. Conservationists installed 25 cat traps and 45 ferret traps.
Recently, 18 takahē birds were released into the wild on a nature reserve located at Lake Wakatipu in the hopes of boosting their numbers even further. The grasslands and abundant vegetation found at the lake are the takahē’s ideal habitat, as they use shrubs for shelter.
A fence erected around the area helps keep out predators. The plan is to release seven more birds in October and ten more early next year.
The birds have a special cultural significance on New Zealand’s South Island. Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, view the takahē birds as sacred beings that should be protected. In the past, Māori people would gather the bird’s feathers and use them to make cloaks.