Thursday, July 18, 2024

Takahē take to new Otago home

Takahē have been returned to Ngāi Tahu whenua/land in the upper Lake Whakatipu Waimāori valley by the Department of Conservation (DOC) with the aim of establishing a third wild population.

DOC staff and Ngāi Tahu released 18 takahē on the tribal property Greenstone Station on Wednesday, with Ngāi Tahu rangatira Tā Tipene O’Regan overseeing the release.

Tā Tipene has enjoyed a connection with takahē since first meeting the taonga during an expedition with Dr Geoffrey Orbell in 1949, one year after takahē were rediscovered.

“I have been enraptured by takahē since I was a boy, so it is very satisfying to release our taonga on our own whenua as we move towards a shared goal of seeing takahē throughout the Ngāi Tahu Takiwā.”

DOC Takahē Recovery Operations Manager, Deidre Vercoe says attempting to set up a third wild population is another pivotal step towards the takahē recovery goal of multiple takahē populations living wild over large areas of their former range.

“Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and DOC work closely together on the Takahē Recovery Programme, in partnership with National Partner Fulton Hogan and the New Zealand Nature Fund, so it’s especially pleasing to be bringing takahē back to Ngāi Tahu whenua,” she said.

“We were pleased the Minister of Conservation Hon Willow-Jean Prime was able to take part in the release and join this special occasion.

“Around half of all takahē are now living in large wild sites, in the takahē homeland in Fiordland’s Murchison Mountains and in Kahurangi National Park, where takahē were first released in 2018.

“With takahē numbers nearing 500 and growing at around 8% a year, new homes are needed. After decades of hard work to increase the takahē population, it’s rewarding to now be focusing on establishing more wild populations, but it comes with challenges.

“Establishing new wild native species populations can take time and success is not guaranteed. If we want takahē to thrive, we need to explore new sites and learn as much as we can to protect the birds now and into the future. We will closely monitor the takahē in the Greenstone Valley to see how they establish in their new home.”

With the manu/birds now released, people walking the Greenstone Track or hunting in the valley will have the chance of seeing takahē roaming wild in their natural tussock land habitat.

“Greenstone Station is a fitting home for our takahē. It has immense spiritual and cultural significance for Ngāi Tahu whānau and was a traditional pounamu and mahinga kai trading route between Te Tai o Poutini and Ōtākou,” says Tā Tipene.

Next month marks 25 years since the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act passed, which saw Greenstone and two other high-country stations return to Ngāi Tahu. Tā Tipene was the Chief Negotiator for the iwi during that process.

“In recognition of the historic grievances of Ngāi Tahu, mana whenua named the mountain tops Kā Whenua Roimata – The Lands of Tears. I hope manuhiri/visitors will enjoy the nearby call of the takahē radiating from the valley floor during future hīkoi on this whenua,” says Tā Tipene.

Fulton Hogan New Zealand CEO, Ben Hayward says that these results highlight the value of organisations working together in true partnership toward a common goal.

“This partnership is one we’re incredibly proud to be involved with, and our people take great pride in the role we play alongside DOC and Ngāi Tahu to see the takahē population thrive.”

Ms Vercoe says the Greenstone Valley was selected as a third wild site for takahē because it appears to have suitable habitat and predator numbers can be maintained at low numbers.

“The Greenstone Valley habitat is similar to the valley floor habitat in the Murchison Mountains but larger in area. It has the staple food for takahē including tussock, sedges, and importantly it has a large amount of Hypolepis millefoium – summer green fern – which sustains takahē through harsh winter conditions,” she said.

“It is planned to follow this release of nine breeding-age pairs with the release of another seven subadult birds in October and up to 10 juvenile takahē early next year. If a population successfully establishes in the Greenstone Valley, expanding the takahē population over the upper Whakatipu Waimāori valleys will be considered.

“Trapping of stoats, ferrets and feral cats has knocked down predator numbers and is continuing to keep them low which is crucial for sustaining takahē populations in the wild.  We’re grateful to partner organisations for trapping that supports the return of takahē to the Greenstone Valley.”

Funding from Takahē Recovery Programme National Partner Fulton Hogan has provided 45 ferret traps and 25 cat traps that are installed in the valley.

Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust has provided stoat traps and assisted with maintaining the trap network in preparation for the takahē. It is also carrying out additional stoat, possum, and feral cat control at the head of the lake around the Routeburn, Dart and nearby valleys from $416,000 Jobs for Nature funding granted by DOC. This includes trapping of feral cats on the road to the Greenstone Valley, with support from Southern Lakes Sanctuary.

Air New Zealand, as part of its 10-year partnership with DOC, is contributing to protecting takahē through its funding of biodiversity work in the Routeburn and Greenstone Valleys, which includes traplines in the Greenstone Valley.

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