The Takahe is a flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand. It was thought to be
extinct after the last four known specimens were taken in 1898. However, on the
20th of November, 1948, after a carefully planned search effort the bird was
rediscovered by Geoffrey Orbell.
The New Zealand Department of Conservation
started an intense management program with the intention of increasing the size
and range of the Takahe population. An important feature of this involved
habitat restoration. The red deer was an introduced species that proved
destructive in the area where the Takahe naturally survived. The red deer were
culled to increase the Takahe's chances of survival.
Captive rearing of wildlife species for release back into the wild is
considered a useful management tool for endangered species. It potentially
increases the rate of survival of the young by bypassing the dangers faced in
the crucial years into adulthood. To assess the success rate of the program, it
becomes necessary to monitor the survival rate of the released animals. This
helps to assess the survival skills of captive reared animals. The survival rate
of wild Takahe over the first year after being born was already known to be
poor. The captive-reared specimens overcame this mortality rate because of
captivity. In the wild, the survival rate was 30 - 40%, whereas in captivity it
Radio telemetry is the use of radio waves for transmitting information from a
distant instrument to a device that records the measurements. Radio transmitters
attached to the birds had batteries that lasted three years. It was used to
track the movement and survival of the captive-reared Takahe that had been
The Takahe normally breed in pairs and both parents care for the eggs and
chicks. Clutches normally consist of two eggs, but parents rarely raise two
chicks. The Takahe management program involved the fostering of single eggs to
the pair of parents. The second egg was systematically collected for artificial
incubation and rearing.
When the eggs hatched, the chicks were placed under a suspended model of an
adult Takahe complete with a heated pad and hygienic cloth nest material. This
was to simulate brooding by a real parent. A small speaker concealed in the nest
played quiet calls recorded from brooding parents in the wild. Up to 5 chicks
were thus reared with each model parent.
An important measure of the captive-rearing program was that chicks were
unable to see their human keepers. The chicks were fed from a dish of food by a
glove puppet simulating the head and neck of an adult Takahe. After about six
weeks, the chicks are able to feed themselves from dishes. At that time, puppet
feeding was discontinued.
One of the original long-term goals of the Takahe program was to establish a
self-sustaining wild population of at least 500 Takahe. At the last count in
2013, the wild population of Takahe stood at 263.