New Zealand's flightless takahe is edging away from the brink of extinction, with a little help from its friends.
The endangered bird, thought to be extinct until its rediscovery 50 years ago, is being carefully nurtured by researchers at New Zealand's Fiordland National Park through an artificial chick-rearing program.The takahe, unique to New Zealand, is an aberration. It evolved from the alpine rail, which arrived in the country by chance thousands of years ago, and become a flightless bird due to the abundance of food and absence of ground-dwelling mammals and predators in the remote bush land.
"Compare the woolly mammoth to elephants and you'll get an idea of how ancient these birds really are," Southland-based Department of Conservation spokesman Tom O'Connor told Reuters.
Southland is the southernmost region of New Zealand, and its conservation lands are among the most rugged in the world. Fiordland National Park is the largest in the country and one of the largest in the world.
Fiordland was well-known to the indigenous Maori, and there are many legends about its formation.
In the mountains of Fiordland, artificial incubation of eggs and rearing of chicks is carried out at the Burwood Rearing Unit near the lakeside township of Te Anau.
A huge effort is made to prevent chicks from identifying too closely, or imprinting, on their human foster parents. Contact is kept to a minimum with the use of artificial hands, and recordings of wild birds are played as the eggs hatch and as the chicks are fed. Puppet models are used as surrogate takahe for feeding, and one-way glass is used in rearing pens.
The bird is related to the common pukeko or swamp hen found throughout the Pacific. But the rare takahe stands out from its more common relative because of its green and blue - rather than black and blue - plumage and its larger body mass.