Gouland Downs

Image: Martin Genet | ©

Introduction

Gouland Downs in Kahurangi National Park could be home to the first wild population of takahē outside their Murchison Mountain refuge.

Highlights

Takahe Recovery logo.

Achieving a consistent 10% growth over the past there years, the takahē population is now sitting just below 350 individuals.

This coupled with the current takahē sites nearing capacity, the Takahē Recovery Programme is now in a position where establishing a new wild population is both feasible, and necessary

Establishing a second wild takahē population

Early in 2018 the Takahē Recovery Programme plans to release 30 takahē in the first wave of translocations into Kahurangi National Park. If the birds find the site suitable, ie the birds survive and don't disperse too far from the site or one another and breed, this will be the first step in a huge conservation win for takahē.

Post release the birds will be intensively monitored to look at survivorship, habitat use/dispersal, and to determine if there is any breeding activity. Birds will be also caught for annual health checks to monitor their condition. 

The Recovery Programme can't guarantee the success of establishing a population in Gouland Downs yet. It may take a couple of breeding seasons to clearly evaluate this. If monitoring shows the birds are thriving in their new home, further releases will be conducting to help increase the population to near carry capacity of the site.

Why Kahurangi National Park?

After a rigorous feasibility study, Gouland Downs in Kahurangi National Park has been selected as the most suitable location, for the following reasons.

  • There is historic presence of takahē recorded from the wider area.
  • The palatable plant species, breeding habitat, topography, climate (milder than Murchison Mountains), availability of water, and low numbers of predators are all favourable to takahē persisting at this site.
  • There is an extensive predator control regime in place, as part of the Air New Zealand funded Biodiversity Enhancement Project that has been operating for many years. Gouland Downs offers the best balance of suitable habitat with low predator numbers. Note: There are sites that contain better takahē habitat, but there are cats and ferrets present and inadequate predator control in place.
  • The Takahē Recovery Programme estimates a carrying capacity of Gouland Downs to be 40 pairs, with the possibility of a further 20 pairs at nearby Mackay Downs. This will create a large enough population to not require intensive management therefore be "wild".
  • The site is on existing DOC tenure and offers good site access and infrastructure which will make post-release management much easier.
  • The site is on the Heaphy Track, one of the Great Walks, so has the potential to provide the first opportunity for public to observe takahē in the wild.

If successful what does it means for takahē recovery?

The primary recovery goal for the Takahē Recovery Programme is the reintroduction of takahē into a South Island site within their former range, with the hope of establishing a self-sustaining wild population.

This is a big step for the programme and will provide many valuable learnings towards a more sustainable management of takahē recovery.

Being in a position to even attempt this reintroduction is a shared success story. Without the support and commitment of our Treaty Partner Ngāi Tahu, national partner Fulton Hogan, official supplier Mitre 10, and the mainland and island sanctuaries housing takahē together with their supporter groups, takahē would almost certainly be extinct.

While there is no guarantee that takahē will successfully establish here, getting to the ‘starting blocks’ for this translocation is a shared success.

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