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Greg is dead.
One of Tiritiri Matangi Island's best known and loved endangered birds died yesterday while being assessed for health problems at Auckland Zoo.
The exact cause of death was yet to be determined, but Greg, the 19-year-old takahe ambassador had been showing the signs of old age. He had lost weight and was ousted from his territory by younger and fitter birds on the island.
Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi chairman Peter Lee said he would be missed.
"Greg was great at engaging the public. He was an expert at winning people over and at times even at stealing their lunch. Wherever there were people Greg was there, he became the personal face of a rare species and helped tell the whole conservation story."
Department of Conservation island ranger Jess Clark said takahe were first introduced to Tiritiri Matangi in 1991 as part of the national recovery programme.
Greg arrived in 1994. He was just 18 months old when he came to the island but quickly got down to the job of breeding, fathering many chicks over the years.
"When you have a national population of just 260 birds, his contribution and legacy has to be considered significant," Clark said.
There are 13 takahe remaining on Tiritiri Matangi. Young juvenile birds from the successful island breeding programme have been taken back to the Murchison Mountains to help boost the mainland wild population.
The regular movement of takahe between islands and the mainland to manage the genetic diversity of island populations is seen as crucial to the success of the takahe recovery programme.
"Greg's genes live on, with one of his chicks Ahikaea continuing to breed on Tiritiri and another chick Ella now a founder of a population across the water on Motutapu Island. Greg has certainly left a legacy."
Greg will be returned to Tiritiri Matangi in the next few days with a memorial ceremony planned on the island to celebrate his life and contribution to conservation.
Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi are planning to set up a fund in Greg's memory, to be used for future conservation projects on the island.
Tiritiri Matangi, managed in partnership by the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi and DOC, is the one of only two places north of Auckland you can see takahe in the wild. The other island sanctuaries for takahe include Motutapu, Maud, Mana and Kapiti islands.
The flightless takahe, the largest living member of the rail family, was rediscovered in the Murchison Mountains in 1948. DOC's work to recover the species has been focussed on establishing self-sustaining populations in Fiordland and on predator-free islands.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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