The once presumed extinct takahē are on the road to recovery, moving down two places along the threat classification system from nationally critical to nationally vulnerable.
Minister of Conservation Hon. Maggie Barry announced the move at the Threatened Species Summit following a review on the takahē population statistics.
Department of Conservation Senior Ranger Glen Greaves said the reclassification was thanks to 30 years of hard work and learning through the Takahē Recovery Programme – but their work was far from finished.
“The Takahē Recovery Programme, which is the longest-running species conservation programme in New Zealand, has pioneered many techniques that have gone on to guide our conservation efforts for other species. Essentially, it’s a blueprint for New Zealand conservation, and this reclassification is a clear indication it’s working.”
The reclassification comes off the back of the species’ most successful breeding season to date, illustrating the measurable success of the Programme so far, Glen said.
The overall population reached a milestone 300 birds in 2016, thanks to the support from DOC’s partners Ngāi Tahu and Fulton Hogan and supporters, Glen said.
However, while the threat class has changed, the security of the species in the wild hasn’t, Glen cautioned.
“Only a third of the takahē population is currently free ranging in the wild and they are heavily reliant on predator control. The rest are essentially refugees at secure island and mainland sanctuaries around the country, most of which are outside of their natural range.”
“These sanctuaries are crucial to the short to medium term recovery of the species but they are limited by available habitat for the birds and therefore the breeding population still requires intensive management. If we were to walk away at this point, takahē would again head rapidly towards extinction."
This is why initiatives such as Predator Free 2050 are so important, Glen said.
“The Programme now shifts its focus to our long-term recovery goal of securing large, self-sustaining populations in areas of their South Island range. Removing predators enables us to restore ecosystems and to sustain our threatened species.”
The challenge for the recovery programme was now to secure the species back in wild tussock land sites within the South Island, the home of the takahē, Glen said.
“Until we can have all our native birds living safely in their natural, wild habitats, we still have plenty of work to do.”
The rowi/Okarito brown kiwi, Campbell Island snipe and Campbell Island teal have also moved down from the highest threat class.