Takahe heading to warmer north

DELWYN DICKEY
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2014
murchison mountains
Ross Curtis

MURCHISON MOUNTAINS: It may look like a wonderland but it will be bitterly cold for the chicks at the Burwood Takahe Centre this winter.

Martin Genet
PROMISING OUTLOOK: Martin Genet with a year-old takahe at the Burwood facility. He says they’ll adapt well at Tawharanui and if breeding there is successful they could be introduced at the Shakespear Open Sanctuary.

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Sixteen rare takahe chicks will be making the most of the snow this winter before heading to the balmy Tawharanui Open Sanctuary in spring.

Hatched last November at the Burwood Takahe Centre in the Murchison Mountains near Te Anau, the chicks are hunkering down with their parents for the winter.

With temperatures that regularly hit minus-16 at night and stay below zero for days on end, it's a pretty harsh environment, Department of Conservation Burwood takahe programme supervisor Martin Genet says.

But the inhospitable climate may have saved the species from extinction.

Murchison is the area the birds were found in 1948 after they were thought to be extinct for 50 years. There they live above the tree line, where few predators can survive the winter.

A programme to kill deer in the area, which were heavily grazing the grasses takahe eat, has stopped their decline further.

The birds are critically endangered with just 270 left, so a concerted effort is underway to rebuild the population.

The Mitre10 Takahe Rescue programme sees Mitre 10 Mega Warkworth helping with the introduction to Tawharanui, including contributing to a new portion of predator proof fencing as added security.

There are now 10 areas in the north that have takahe, including Tiritiri Matangi Island where visitors often see them grazing on the lighthouse lawn.

Genet makes the journey north to check out the Hauraki Gulf Island populations every year. Tawharanui Regional Park should be a good spot for them, he says. The possibility of a bird being hit on the park road is the only negative.

Tawharanui isn't the first mainland site in the north. There is a small fenced sanctuary near Hamilton. But it is the first time a peninsula has been used.

Genet says Shakespear Open Sanctuary would be a good site for takahe too, but introduction will depend on how well the birds do at Tawharanui.

Come September, 12 of the young birds will become stars. They will be flown as VIPs free by Air New Zealand from either Queenstown or Invercargill to a much warmer Auckland.

At Tawharanui they will be surrounded by adoring fans eager for a glimpse.

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