The takahe, which had not been seen in 50 years and was considered to be extinct, was discovered in Fiordland's rugged Murchison Mountains in November 1948. Geoffrey Orbell, a Southland medical practitioner, made the finding rather than a scientist or a wildlife specialist. He was out hiking with his dog when he came across the bird's nest high up in a tree. The nest contained an egg that was more than three feet long and one foot wide.
The egg was given to Dr. Orbell by local Maori who believed it was important for bringing good luck. They also told him where the takahe could be found - in a mountain lake called Taiaroa. Dr. Orbell took the egg home and kept it in his kitchen cupboard for several months until he decided to have it evaluated by a scientist. In January 1949, he gave the egg to Charles Lindburgh, a professor of zoology at the University of Otago. Professor Lindburgh concluded that the egg was from a species that was now completely extinct. He wrote a letter to The Times newspaper explaining his findings. The paper used this information in an article that was published in February 1949.
In November 1948, before the takahe was discovered, there were only about 80 birds left in the world. Now that number is estimated to be less than 40. Scientists believe that the takahe died out because they could no longer find enough food to survive on.
The takahe was famously found in 1948 after being thought to be extinct for over 50 years. Geoffrey Orbell, an Invercargill physician, and his team discovered the last wild population of the bird high in the tussock grasslands of the inaccessible Murchison Mountains, above Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. The team was searching for new species when they came across the takahe's nest. After examining the bones, Dr. Orbell concluded that it was a female aged about seven years old when she died.
Since then, there have been no confirmed sightings of the takahe, but scientists believe there may still be live birds out there in remote parts of Fiordland. They use satellite tracking devices on several individuals to study where they go and how they move around their habitat. One bird named "Lucky" has traveled more than 100 miles up into mountainous terrain near Mount Cook in New Zealand!
Another individual named "Kip" has traveled more than 20 miles along the coast from its original location to reach ocean beaches. Scientists think Kip may have been looking for other takahe to join its colony or perhaps just looking for a place to breed. They also believe that Kip was probably killed by a human who caught it as a pet and then discarded down at the beach because it had a collar with a satellite transmitter on it. These birds are now protected by law and can't be captured alive.
Takahe formerly inhabited the South Island, but hunting, imported predators, habitat damage, and competition for food all contributed to their extinction. Although it wasn't until later discovered that this bird was still alive and well! It now only remains on Mangere Island in the centre of the country.
Mangere is a small island with very limited resources so the takahe there is vulnerable to predators, disease, and accidents. Also, because the population is so low, they tend to experience more frequent flooding and drought than other places where they could possibly live. In fact, since 1980, Mangere has been identified as an endangered species by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Despite these dangers, the takahe has managed to survive on Mangere thanks to a government protection program. Because they are classified as "nationally important" under the Wildlife Act, any threat to them can lead to charges being laid against anyone who might have harmed them. The DOC also works with landowners to ensure that there are no problems on Mangere and that nothing harmful gets built there.
In 2003, the department estimated that there were only about 40 birds on the island.
1948 The South Island takahe is a rare remnant of New Zealand's flightless, vegetarian avian species. Takahe were thought to be extinct when four specimens were recovered from Fiordland between 1849 and 1898, but they were famously found in the Murchison Mountains, west of Lake Te Anau, in 1948. Since then, there have been no further sightings or evidence that the bird is still alive.
In 1998, a team led by David Gledhill made an extensive survey of the Murchison Mountains looking for signs of takahe. They used dogs to search for tracks near waterholes and caves where the birds may have sheltered during storms. No traces of takahe were found during this survey, which suggests that perhaps these birds are unique individuals or maybe even a single breeding pair that was able to survive through both winters. However, since then there have been reports of people seeing wings moving on moonlit nights at two other locations outside of Fiordland - one near Lake Wanaka and another near Mount Cook. These sightings suggest that there may be more than one remaining bird living in remote areas away from human influence.
Takahe were declared extinct by the Department of Conservation (DOC), the government agency responsible for protecting New Zealand's endangered wildlife, in 2008.
Takahe can only be found in the Murchison Mountains, Fiordland National Park, and, more recently, Gouland Downs in Kahurangi National Park. The last known female takahe died in 2016. No male takahe has been spotted since 2014.
The species is considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Overhunting for feathers used in traditional New Zealand dress, combined with trapping for the same purpose, led to the extinction of the mainland population. However, scientists believe there may still be undiscovered islands with breeding populations.
In February 2018, it was reported that a group of up to five takahe had been spotted on an island off the South Island. This is believed to be the first confirmed sighting of this species in over 20 years. The birds were observed by helicopter on Pareturu Island, which is part of the Murchison Islands Group. They are thought to have arrived via oceanic driftnet fishing lines. The sighting is being treated as a one-off event due to the isolation of the island. If further sightings are made then this would suggest that the species is able to survive outside of protected areas.
Scientists from Canterbury Museum and Otago University conducted a survey of Pareturu Island in March 2018.