Twenty nine Takahē successfully released in Murchison Mountains

On 22 February, South Island General Manager Craig Stewart and Dunedin City Council CEO Sandy Graham joined representatives from Ngāi Tahu and the Department of Conservation (DoC), to release 29 takahē in the Murchison Mountains, Fiordland. Fulton Hogan began partnering with DoC in support of the Takahē Recovery Programme in July 2016.

The rediscovery of takahē in the Murchison Mountains in 1948 kick-started one of the world’s longest standing conservation programmes, with the goal being to ensure takahē are never again considered extinct. Protecting the last remaining wild population in the Murchison Mountains still remains one of the primary focuses of the Takahē Recovery Programme.

The Murchison Mountains’ Takahē Special Area covers about 50,000 ha, but only parts of it are suitable habitat for takahē, mainly the alpine head basins and grassy valley floors. Across this area a network of 3,500 stoat traps is maintained to protect takahē and a number of other threatened species in the mountainous environment.

The Murchison Mountains’ takahē population has had its ups and downs since 1981, when more intensive management of takahē began due to their declining numbers. The wild population reached its lowest point of 77 in 2015, following back-to-back stoat plagues, and a major flooding event and landslides in which birds were killed.

Since 2015, the total population has steeply climbed with the Takahē Recovery Programme’s use of science-based conservation techniques for growing the population, allowing annual releases of sanctuary bred takahē to supplement the wild Murchison Mountain population.

Q&A with Glen Greaves – Senior Biodiversity Ranger and a key member of the Takahē Recovery Programme.

 Why are having partners key to the TRP?

For the past 20 years, the takahē programme has relied on partners and sponsors to provide the bulk of our operating expenditure. This financial support has enabled the TRP to secure takahē from extinction, through providing the means to operate and grow. With Fulton Hogan on board, we have created a springboard from which we can now advance toward our ultimate goal of self-sustaining wild populations, without putting the species security at risk.

Partners also provide an avenue to further understanding and support within new communities – particularly through staff and their families.

What does the Fulton Hogan Partnership allow TRP to achieve?

The Fulton Hogan partnership has allowed huge growth in the programme over the past five years. Through this partnership, we have achieved multiple milestones, and can now rapidly forge a pathway towards our ultimate recovery goal of self-sustaining wild populations.  Expanding our population-building infrastructure, as well as advancing our methods and understanding, provides the means to the ultimate end of growing takahē populations.  The Fulton Hogan partnership provides the funds to do all of this mahi.

What is the benefit of long-term partnerships to the programme?

The recovery of takahē requires long-term thinking and planning. The TRP is highly integrated in design in that, every step made within the recovery programme is a further step toward a milestone set years beforehand.  Decisions we make today give direction for where the programme needs to be in 2-5 years, and will define the steps we need to take to get to that milestone. It is critical that our partnerships match this timeframe, to give certainty and a sense of true partnership and shared reward for each milestone achieved.

What has been your experience engaging with Fulton Hogan staff?

Right from the beginning, Fulton Hogan has been a perfect fit with the programme and our team.  They are a very genuine partner, they are in it for the conservation outcomes.  With staff engagement being one of Fulton Hogan’s main priorities, it has been great having some of their crew on the ground with us. Everyone we have interacted with has come with a real sense of enthusiasm for the programme.

 What are you most excited about over the next year or so in the TRP?

The next year is a very exiting period for the TRP, particularly as we shift our focus toward selecting the next new recovery site. Next summer’s takahē chicks will be released into a brand new wild home –  somewhere that takahē haven’t been for centuries. The challenge of selecting the ultimate takahē site, combined with achieving this milestone alongside our partners, is a conservation worker’s dream scenario.

Craig Stewart on what it was like to take part in the release

Can you tell us how it felt to see the birds being released?

It was great to see first-hand the success of the breeding program in re-stablishing the takahē in their natural habitat.

What surprised you on the day?

  • How young and enthusiastic the DOC project management team and staff are.
  • The amount of resource that goes into the predator trapping program to protect their natural habitat – big piece of work to maintain those predator controlled areas, with 3500 traps in place!
  • The breeding is so successful that the next challenge is to establish a new wild habitat in the next two to three years.

What did it mean for you to be there?

  • Felt privileged to be given the opportunity to be there and experience the release of takahē in their habitat – once in a lifetime opportunity.

How did it make you feel about working for Fulton Hogan?

  • Strong connection with culture between FH and DOC, such as the graduate development programme and developing young people that are passionate. Both are large employers and without good staff we struggle to be successful.

How was your experience of DOCs Takahē Recovery team on the day?

 As a team it was great to see them coming together on the day – came together really well and they have a great culture.

Lasting impressions?

 The more exposure you can give to the community about the success of the program, the greater chance you would have to attract other funders and interest. Create more opportunities for corporates to experience the takahē.

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