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Tiritiri Matangi Island loses iconic bird

12 August 2012

Tiritiri Matangi Island loses iconic bird

One of Tiritiri Matangi Island’s best known and loved endangered birds died today while being assessed for health problems at Auckland Zoo. The exact cause of death is yet to be determined, but Greg, the 19 year old takahē ambassador had been showing the signs of old age, losing weight and ousted from his territory by younger and fitter birds on the island.

Thousands of New Zealanders and international visitors came to know and love Greg, the flightless and iconic bird who was an exceptional advocate for his species and the island’s conservation efforts. He will be hugely missed, says Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi chair Peter Lee.

“Greg was great at engaging the public. He was an expert at winning people over and at times even at stealing their lunch. Wherever there were people Greg was there, he became the personal face of rare species and helped tell the whole conservation story.”

Department of Conservation Island Ranger Jess Clark says that takahē were first introduced to Tiritiri Matangi in 1991 as part of the national recovery programme, with Greg arriving in 1994.

“He was just 18 months old when he came to the island but quickly got down to the job of breeding, fathering many chicks over the years. When you have a national population of just 260 birds, his contribution and legacy has to be considered significant.”

There are 13 takahē remaining on Tiritiri Matangi. Young juvenile birds from the successful island breeding programme have been taken back to the Murchison Mountains to help boost the mainland wild population.

“The regular cycling of takahē between islands and the mainland to manage the genetic diversity of island populations is seen as crucial to the success of the takahē recovery programme,” says Ms Clark. “Greg’s genes live on, with one of his chicks Ahikaea continuing to breed on Tiritiri and another chick Ella now a founder of a population across the water on Motutapu Island. Greg has certainly left a legacy.”

Greg will be returned to Tiritiri Matangi in the next few days with a memorial ceremony planned on the island to celebrate his life and contribution to conservation. Such has been the emotional response from those whose lives have been touched by this bird that the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi are planning to set up a fund in Greg’s memory, to be used for future conservation projects on the island.

Tiritiri Matangi, managed in partnership by the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi and DOC, is the one of only two places north of Auckland you can see takahē in the wild. The other island sanctuaries for takahē include Motutapu, Maud, Mana and Kapiti islands.

The flightless takahē, the largest living member of the rail family, was rediscovered in the Murchison Mountains in 1948. DOC’s work to recover the species has been focussed on establishing self-sustaining populations in Fiordland and on predator-free islands.

Media enquiries: Liz Maire, DOC Warkworth Area Office ph 021 234 0831, lmaire@doc.govt.nz

Background information

Facts about takahe

• The takahē is an endangered flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand.
• Takahē once lived throughout the North and South Islands and were thought to be extinct until rediscovered by Geoffrey Orbell near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains, South Island in 1948.
• Today’s population is around 260 birds at various sites including the Murchison Mountains in Fiordland as well as the pest-free islands Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Mana and Maud and mainland sanctuary of Maungatautiri, near Cambridge.
• Some takahē have lived for over 20 years in captivity, but in the wild few would live to more than 15 years of age.
• Since the 1980’s, DOC has been involved in managing takahē nests to boost the birds' recovery. Artificial incubation of eggs and rearing of chicks is carried out at the Burwood Bush rearing unit, Te Anau, where five pairs are held to form a small breeding group.
• Mitre10 Takahē Rescue has sponsored the Takahē Recovery Programme for the last six years, contributing the development of the breeding unit, the health checks and transfers of Takahē around the country as well as a number of other projects that have supported the growth of the national takahe population.

Tiritiri Matangi Island

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