Today 15 of the rare flightless birds are being flown into their rugged new mountain home with the remainder to be released in coming months.
It's a landmark point in our Takahē Recovery Programme, in partnership with Ngāi Tahu and Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue. Recent breeding successes and strengthened pest control have lifted the population to about 280 takahē nationally and means birds can now be returned to the wild for the first time in five years.
DOC Senior Takahē Ranger Glen Greaves says it's an exciting step forward after a focus on building up insurance populations of takahē on islands and mainland sanctuaries.
"We have 60 breeding pairs in safe pest-free locations and can now use birds from the breeding programme to start to replenish our only remnant wild population."
"Monitoring has shown that our expanded network of some 3500 trap boxes over 50,000 hectares is helping to protect the takahē from stoats and the population has stabilised."
Mitre 10 General Manager Marketing Dave Elliott says after nearly a decade of support it's rewarding to see takahē recovery reaching this point.
"We feel proud that Mitre 10's work in recent years to help improve the facilities and breeding success at the Burwood Takahē Centre is making a difference to takahē survival."
The takahē will be released at a number of sites across the mountain range to encourage new breeding pairs. Young females will be put near bachelor males and other birds into less populated areas of the tussock grassland.
The plan for takahē recovery for the next few years is to put most of the breeding programme's young birds into the Murchison Mountains to increase the wild population from an estimated 80 to 150 birds. The next goal will be to establish a second self-sustaining wild population at a suitable site where takahē once roamed.
DOC increased the network of traps in the Murchison Mountains by over a third last spring as part of its Battle for our Birds response to a predicted stoat plague associated with beech forest seeding. Monitoring since has shown that no takahē have been killed by stoats.
Takahē, once thought to be extinct, was rediscovered in the Murchison Mountains in 1948. It remains critically endangered with a population of approximately 280.
Stoats are a key threat to takahē in the mountains and a stoat plague following heavy beech and tussock seeding in 2007 decimated the population. Fortunately additional populations of takahē had been established on pest-free islands as insurance against this sort of event.
Over the last three decades takahē bred at the Burwood Takahē Centre near Te Anau have been used to build new populations on Maud, Mana, Kapiti,Tiritiri Mātangi and more recently, Motutapu and Rotoroa islands, as well as Maungatautari Ecological Island in the Waikato and at Cape Sanctuary in Hawke's Bay.
Most of the birds being released this spring are 1-2 years old, although two adult pairs will also be returned. Takahē were last released in the Murchison Mountains in 2010 with the largest previous release of 18 birds in 2008.