The takahê, also known as the takahê stern, is a species of bird endemic to the South Island of New Zealand. Although it was considered extinct for a long period, with more than half a century without confirmed sightings, it surprisingly reappeared in the region. The takahê population is small and its reproductive capacity is limited. However, due to its notorious ability to survive, experts and conservationists have implemented specific strategies to protect and preserve this endangered species.
Getting to know takahê better
The takahê is related to cranes. However, its appearance is more similar to the kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand, although it is not related to it in any way. It belongs to the Rallidae family, a group of waterfowl known for their stocky appearance and inability to fly. It is one of the largest birds in this family and is a true gem of New Zealand wildlife due to its uniqueness and survival story.
It is a large and robust bird, reaching a length of approximately 63 to 65 centimeters and a weight of around 2.7 to 4.2 kilograms. Its plumage is mostly blue-violet with a bright red forehead, making it unmistakable. Their legs are yellowish-green and are adapted to walking in swampy areas.
Currently, there are only around 500 copies. However, for a bird that was thought to be extinct, moving into the “endangered” category is a huge step forward.
In the mid-19th century, the takahê was a great novelty to explorers who saw it for the first time. Sadly, as of 1898, the bird was never seen again and was therefore categorized as extinct. Until 1948, that is, 50 years after being seen for the last time, it reappeared again in its habitat in New Zealand.
Recovery of takahê
The recovery of its population is slow, approximately 8% annually. The number of specimens is small, so the growth in numbers is due, for the moment, to the intervention of man. Members of the New Zealand Department of Conservation carry out tasks to recondition places where the bird can survive. To do this, they are creating favorable environments and thus have a sanctuary, or several, where the takahê can be introduced back into nature.
As part of efforts to save the species, conservationists collected eggs from these birds to incubate them under controlled conditions. The babies that are born are kept in captivity until they can fend for themselves. At this point, they are reintroduced to natural life through scheduled releases. At the same time, conservationists not only carry out environmental conditioning tasks. They also carry out tasks such as eliminating pests and species considered invasive for New Zealand’s native fauna.
The species considered invasive are those that were introduced by man and are not endemic to the area. This is the case of the muskrat, which is precisely its main predator. Other invasive species that they intend to eradicate are ferrets, stoats and common cats, since they eat the eggs, kill the babies and destroy their nests.
The takahê is not the only bird that rose from the ashes. Another species that also surprised is the Japanese toki or crested ibis. It is a bird, emblematic of the island of Sado, that reappeared in 2003, although far from its place of origin, since the new specimens were discovered in China.