Safe places for breeding and retirement
Ten of the sanctuaries have active breeding pairs including Maungatautari Ecological Island, Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary, Cape Sanctuary and Mana, Kapiti, Motutapu, Tiritiri Matangi, Rotoroa and two further privately owned islands.
Other sites house advocacy birds that are retired from the breeding programme or those that are infertile. These include Punanga Manu o Te Anau/Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, ZEALANDIA, Pukaha/Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary, and Auckland Zoo.
With the exception of the Burwood Takahē Centre, Cape Sanctuary and the two privately owned islands all of the takahē sanctuaries are open to the public and you have the opportunity to see one of the takahē present.
Establishing the takahē sanctuaries
Takahē numbers were steadily declining in the Murchison Mountains until about 1981, when more intensive management methods were implemented. For many years birds were hand-raised at the Burwood Takahē Centre and then released either back into the Murchison Mountains or onto predator-free islands, to establish ‘insurance’ populations.
When other endangered birds are transferred to sanctuaries, they move from a mainland forest home to a similar island forest home. Not so for the takahē - their move was from alpine tussock grasslands to lowland islands with introduced grasses, far removed from their natural mountain home and in many cases outside of their historic range.
Still they have adapted well to foraging on introduced grasses and as the takahē numbers have grown, this has allowed eggs to be incubated and chicks to be raised by parent birds and for the establishment of nearly 45 breeding pairs across the takahē sanctuaries network.
Whilst these sanctuaries still provide ‘insurance’ against major catastrophe in the remaining wild population, they also play a vital role as they contribute to the growing number of takahē and/or provide excellent opportunities for the public to learn more about this unique bird.
Managing the takahē sanctuaries
Around a third of the total takahē population call these sanctuaries home and the birds at the sanctuaries are managed as one meta-population (group of populations that are separated by space but consist of the same species).
Managing so many sites and birds creates challenges for the Takahē Recovery Programme. Intensive management is needed to ensure there is both adequate genetic mixing and the most effective combination of breeding pairs are formed at each of the sites. For more information on how takahē are managed as a meta-population see Understanding takahē transfers.
In more recently established takahē sanctuaries, younger birds were introduced and are now reaching breeding age. The vision of the secure breeding population is beginning to reach its potential. The takahē population would not be experiencing the current rate of growth without these takahē sanctuaries and their dedicated staff and supporter groups.
Unfortunately these sanctuaries are not large enough to sustain a wild population of takahē as they are limited by size and available habitat. So while the secure sites play an important role in the short to medium term recovery of the species, the longer term recovery goals are "to secure large self-sustaining wild populations of takahē in areas of their former South Island range".