On a family trip to Wellington this weekend, we visited Zealandia, a predator-fenced wildlife sanctuary. A number of endangered native birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects have been introduced to the sanctuary, and many have done well there. Among the birds we saw were kākā, saddlebacks, and kākāriki. But my favourites of the day were a pair of geriatric takahē. Takahē are beautifully coloured, stocky birds about the size of a large chicken. They were thought extinct until 1948 when they were rediscovered in a remote area of the Murchison Mountains. In spite of protected habitat and a captive breeding programme, takahē remain critically endangered, with a population of around 300.
This pair were once part of the captive breeding programme, but at over 20 years old, they are no longer able to produce viable eggs. They were transferred to Zealandia to live out their retirement where they can be ambassadors for their species. They were certainly doing their job this weekend.
When we were there, the takahē were hanging out in a grassy clearing, feeding leisurely and basking in the sun. As we watched, the male walked over to join the female and groom her—a cute public display of affection. They talked to each other quietly as they fed, and completely ignored the half-dozen people standing around watching. They looked content and relaxed—just like a retired couple should.
I hope this unique bird can hold on, and flourish once again, if only in predator-free sanctuaries and offshore islands. It would be sad to lose it…again.