The conservation of critically endangered flightless birds in New Zealand

Authors

  • M. N. CLOUT,

    1. Centre for Conservation Biology, School of Biological Sciences, Tamaki Campus, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
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  • J. L. CRAIG

    1. Centre for Conservation Biology, School of Biological Sciences, Tamaki Campus, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
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Abstract

The current status of Kakapo Strigops habroptilus and Takahe Porphyrio mantelli is described along with recent developments in programmes for their conservation. Both species were (at different times) thought to be effectively extinct, and both have been temporarily reprieved by the discovery of new populations. Population declines have continued, with Kakapo now reduced to less than 50 individuals and Takahe to about 150. Kakapo are especially at risk; 87% of the remaining birds are over 14 years old and only 17 females are known. Research on relict populations of both species has identified predation and competition from introduced mammals as major threats. Both species have high rates of egg infertility and low survival of young. Increasingly intensive management of both Kakapo and Takahe over recent years has included translocation to predator-free island refuges, supplementary feeding to encourage breeding, clutch manipulation, captive rearing and predator control. All known Kakapo have now been transferred to three island refuges, where the overall rate of population decline has slowed and supplementary feeding has apparently encouraged more frequent breeding attempts. Takahe conservation has concentrated largely on attempts to increase the population in Fiordland, New Zealand, through clutch manipulation and release of captive-reared young, but birds have also been released on four islands, which now hold 19% of the total population. The relict Fiordland populations of both Kakapo and Takahe were confined to apparently suboptimal habitat. Both species have successfully adapted to novel environments and foods when translocated, and the populations which now exist present improved opportunities for intensive management using a range of conservation techniques to enhance productivity and survival. Recent population trends of Kakapo and Takahe are reconstructed, and the contribution of research to their conservation is reviewed.

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