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Back from the Brink
The little guys who could
I'm not really much of a birdwatcher, well at least I didn't used to be! But some of the hubs I've been reading recently have helped me to "start looking to the skies" and take a little more notice of whom we share our planet with.
There are so many items in the news that tell us how things are going wrong and how we need to change our ways that I thought it time to take a look at some of the "good news" stories where we have made a difference.
This is the story of two species that came close to leaving us altogether (extinction) but through a bit of careful management have been brought back from the brink of extinction.
Takahe or "porphyrio hochstetteri"
This little fellow was once thought to be extinct. In 1898 what was thought to be the last of the breed were hunted for food, but then in 1948 in the Murchison mountains near Lake Te Anau (part of the Southern Alps) a man by the name of George Orbell re-discovered them.
They are a flightless bird from a time when New Zealand was a land of birds and insects with no natural predators.
The arrival of Humans is what changed that as the Takahe was hunted for food, introduced pests such as rats, stoats, possums, cats and dogs all took their toll until they were taken to the brink and thought wiped out.
Takahe are unusual in that they don't normally live in the forest but in grassland fairly high in the mountains, they nest in tussocks.
By the way, if you want to see the Takahe you'd have to travel to the remote southwest corner of the country, to Fjordland, or you could settle for his bigger cousin the Pukeko who's found all over New Zealand
Since their re-discovery Government has sought to monitor the population to make sure they don't face extinction again, helping out with this is one of their old enemies. Specially trained sniffer dogs find the nests and alert their handlers who note the condition of the eggs and chicks to keep record of their recovery. There are still less than 250 birds but that's better than being extinct!
In the last few years there's been a concerted effort to re-introduce the Takahe into various parts of the country. Special areas have been fenced off and huge efforts put in to get rid of pests in the area, walking paths built so that Joe public can see these and other precious bids in their natural habitat and learn why it's so important to preserve them for the future
The photo below is taken at a inland "Island reserve" created just about an hour from Hamilton
Just wonderful, Takahe where they used to rule the roost
Where the Pukeko might be
The species lives on
Some birds still threatened
2. The Black Robin
For this little critter even I'd have to travel over land and sea to find where they live. About six hundred miles off the east coast of New Zealand is a group of Islands called the Chatham Islands, a small group of Islands where the original Human settlers (even before the Maori) still live, and they share their Islands with some wonderful little creatures , one of which is the Black Robin or Chatham Island Robin.
Bringing the Black Robin back from the brink of Extinction is one of the biggest international conservation success stories of the last thirty years, why? Because thirty five years ago (1980) conservationists realized that there were only five birds of the species left at the time! Five males and one breeding female!
I suppose the female could at least have her pick of the fellas to breed with, but the situation was so critical that action was called for and things happened.
The Black Robin isn't that good of a flyer (not over long distances anyway) but they hadn't needed to be as the Chathams are at least five hundred miles from the nearest land mass and there were no natural predators, but with the arrival of Humans and particularly Europeans with their cats and dogs all that changed!
By the 1870's they were extinct on the main Islands of the Chathams and only lived on one remote place called "Little Mangare Island" A small rock outcrop of about 15 Hectare five miles from the nearest Island and five hundred miles from civilization, yet we're the ones threaten their existence!
Recovery programs were begun and soon the female was even given a nickname (Old Blue). Black Robins are only about the size of a sparrow and lay one or two eggs a year. They start breeding at about two years old and life expectancy is about four or five years but Old Blue lived a total of fourteen years! when she died apparently it was such a big thing that her death was announced in Parliament, but then again she was the little lady who saved her species!
We're unlikely to ever see a Black Robin even here so close to where they live, but that doesn't mean that we can't take heart from such an amazing success story!
The Birds were moved from Little Mangare island to the larger Mangare Island about five miles away where about two hundred of them now live and the population is steadily growing.
The little bird who could
How it was done
Not much of a bird watcher
As I said at the beginning, I'm not really much of a birdwatcher, but over the last few weeks I've started to take note of those who fly across our path. It would be easy to think that birds will always be with us, after all they've always been there, but the fact is if we're not careful there could come a day when the skies are barren and there is no singing in the trees.
Tragic as it sounds that day could come as we take away their habitat, yet simple little things like planting trees in our concrete jungles, or putting a few crumbs of bread out in the depth of winter when the ground is hard and unrelenting can make all the difference to these creatures who spend their time flying around entertaining us and bringing the music of their singing to our ears.
How about you, you don't have to be an 'eco-warrior' to make a difference.