Back from extinction – the Takahe

In November 1948, the takahe, which had not been sighted for 50 years and long thought extinct, was discovered in Fiordland’s remote Murchison Mountains. The discovery was made not by a scientist or wildlife specialist, but by Southland medical doctor Geoffrey Orbell. A keen tramper and hunter, Orbell was convinced that the takahe was the source of strange bird calls he had heard when tramping in the area. His tracking and locating of three takahe in 1948 caused an immense stir among the public, and the government quickly closed off this remote part of Fiordland National Park in an effort to protect this last known population.

The excitement this discovery must have caused, among the public and wildlife practitioners alike, is hard to imagine. The following excerpt, from the Southland News in February 1897 – more than half a century before this discovery – demonstrates that even then, most people were resigned to the likelihood that the takahe would follow the same inevitable path to extinction as the huia: Continue reading

Papaitonga – hidden jewel of Horowhenua

Papaitonga is a dune lake in the Horowhenua coastal plain. It is surrounded by a very rare remnant of coastal north island forest. Just south of Levin, the 135 hectare Papaitonga Scenic Reserve is a little known but ecologically and historically remarkable place [click here to view map].

The reserve contains the only intact sequence from wetland to mature dry terrace forest in Wellington and Horowhenua. It is an important refuge for birds that depend on wetlands or lowland forests for their survival. Papaitonga is home to waterfowl and wading birds as well as forest species on the lake’s margins. However, like many remnant wetland forests, the health of this wetland forest is threatened by a receding water table. The reserve is surrounded by farmland which draws on large volumes of water for irrigation. Continue reading