Jan 31

Two rare takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) have been reintroduced into Wellington’s world-first urban wildlife sanctuary, ZEALANDIA. Nicknamed ‘Puffin’ and ‘T2’, the birds will help rangers at the sanctuary educate visitors about the role of conservation in protecting New Zealand’s rarest bird.

Photo of takahe

This unique flightless bird is roughly the size of a hen, making it the world’s largest rail.

A New Zealand oddity 

Once widespread on both the North and South Islands, the flightless takahe is a real New Zealand oddity. It was thought to be extinct for around 50 years, before being ‘rediscovered’ in 1948 in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland in the South Island. 

It has since been introduced to the five offshore islands of Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Mana, Maud and Rarotoka. Thanks to an intensive programme of captive breeding, translocations, stoat control and deer culling, the takahe population has seen a gradual increase from a low of 112 birds in 1981 to the current population of 225 birds.

Photo of takahe in shallow water

Formerly known as Porphyrio mantelli, the takahe was recently split into two species: the extinct Porphyrio mantelli and the surviving Porphyrio hochstetteri.

Long road to recovery 

The takahe pair is the 17th native species to be re-introduced to the urban sanctuary, and by far the rarest species to be released. This is also only the second such translocation of the takahe into the wild on the North Island. 

The birds – a retired breeding pair from Mana Island – haven’t produced chicks for some years now and are being taken out of the breeding population to create room for younger birds. 

“Very few New Zealanders and even fewer tourists have seen a takahe in the wild,” said ZEALANDIA chief executive Nancy McIntosh-Ward. 

“Most takahe outside of captivity live on off-shore islands or in remote mountain reserves. We’re very excited to have the chance to share these beautiful birds with our visitors, and raise awareness about their long road to recovery.”

Watch a video of a takahe walking in its mountain habitat on ARKive

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author