Takahē have been returned to Ngāi Tahu whenua/land in the upper Whakatipu Waimāori valley with the aim of establishing a third wild population.
Nine breeding pairs of takahē were released on Greenstone Station earlier this week. The high country station was itself returned to Ngāi Tahu following its settlement in 1998. Ōtākou Rūnaka member Tūmai Cassidy helped release the takahē and says they instantly enjoyed their new home.
“They just took straight off and headed up into the hills. We could hear them calling to each other, so we knew that they were close by. Hopefully, they’ll be settling in over the next few weeks, months and years.”
Cassidy says the whenua holds special significance to the iwi and being able to return takahē to it is another step in reconnecting the environment to its past.
The whenua now known as Greenstone Station - on the western edge of Whakatipu Waimāori (Lake Wakatipu) was an important part of the trade route of tipuna between the eastern and western coasts of Te Waipounamu.
“It’s a place that people lived and travelled through on their way to get things like pounamu and other taonga. So takahē and some of our other species were a part of that lifeway.
“Now with 25 years since the whenua has been returned, I just think about the generations of our people who fought for the whenua.
“And things like this, the return of our taoka, it would have been on the minds throughout the entire fight for the claim.”
Takahē thriving but not out of danger
DOC takahē recovery operations manager Deidre Vercoe says attempting to set up a third wild population is another pivotal step towards the takahē recovery goal of multiple takahē populations living wild over large areas of their former range.
“Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and DoC work closely together on the Takahē Recovery Programme, in partnership with Fulton Hogan and the New Zealand Nature Fund, so it’s especially pleasing to be bringing takahē back to Ngāi Tahu whenua. We were pleased the Minister of Conservation Willow-Jean Prime was able to take part in the release and join this special occasion.
“About half of all takahē are now living in large wild sites, in the takahē homeland in Fiordland’s Murchison Mountains and in Kahurangi National Park, where takahē were first released in 2018.”
Takahē numbers are now estimated to be nearing 500 and growing at 8% a year.
After decades of hard work to increase the takahē population, it’s rewarding to now be focusing on establishing more wild populations but it comes with challenges, Vercoe says.
“Establishing new wild native species populations can take time and success is not guaranteed. If we want takahē to thrive, we need to explore new sites and learn as much as we can to protect the birds now and into the future. We will closely monitor the takahē in the Greenstone Valley to see how they establish in their new home.”
Special moment, 75 years in the making
The release was overseen by Ngāi Tahu rangatira Tā Tipene O’Regan who has enjoyed a connection with takahē since first meeting the taonga during an expedition with Dr Geoffrey Orbell in 1949, one year after takahē were rediscovered.
“I have been enraptured by takahē since I was a boy, so it is very satisfying to release our taonga on our own whenua as we move towards a shared goal of seeing takahē throughout the Ngāi Tahu Takiwā.”
Next month marks 25 years since the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act passed, which saw Greenstone and two other high-country stations return to Ngāi Tahu. O’Regan was the chief negotiator for the iwi during that process.
“In recognition of the historic grievances of Ngāi Tahu, mana whenua named the mountain tops Kā Whenua Roimata - The Lands of Tears. I hope manuhiri/visitors will enjoy the nearby call of the takahē radiating from the valley floor during future hīkoi on this whenua,” he says.
Vercoe says another seven birds are to be released in October, and 10 juvenile takahē early in the new year, with considerations for further populations to be released in in other parts of the Whakatipu Waimāori valleys into the future.