Takahe

Scientific Name
Porphyrio mantelli
Order
Family
Genus
Conservation Status
Endangered (EN)

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Wikipedia Article

The Takah or South Island Takah (Porphyrio hochstetteri) is a flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand and belonging to the rail family. It was thought to be extinct after the last four known specimens were taken in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort the bird was rediscovered by Geoffrey Orbell near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains, South Island, on 20 November 1948. The specific scientific name commemorates the Austrian geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter. A related species, the North Island Takah (P. mantelli) or mho is extinct and only known from skeletal remains. Both forms were long assumed to be subspecies of mantelli, and were usually placed in the genus Notornis. However, it has been determined that the differences between Porphyrio and Notornis were insufficient for separating the latter, whereas the differences between the North and South Island forms justified the splitting into two species, as each evolved independently towards flightlessness.
The Takah is the largest living member of the Rallidae family. Its overall length averages 63 cm (24.8 in) and its average weight is about 2.7 kg (6 lbs) in males and 2.3 kg (5 lb) in females, ranging from 1.8-4.2 kg (4-9.2 lbs). The standing height is around . It is a stocky bird, with reduced wings, strong legs and a massive bill. The adult Takah is mainly purple-blue in color, with a greenish back and inner wings. It has a red frontal shield and red-based pink bill. The legs are pink. Sexes are similar, the females being slightly smaller, but young birds have mainly pale brown plumage. Immatures have a pinkish bill with bluish cast.This is a noisy species with a loud clowp call. Contact call is easely confused with that of the Weka (Gallirallus australis), but is generally more resonant and deeper.
The Takah is a sedentary and flightless bird currently found in alpine grasslands habitats. Although it is indigenous to swamps, humans turned its swamplands habitat into farmland, and the Takah was forced to moved upland into the grasslands. It holds territories in the grassland until the arrival of the snows, when it then descends into forest or scrub. It eats grass, shoots and insects, but predominantly leafes of Chionochloa tussocks and other alpine grass species. The Takah can often be seen to pluck a snow grass (Danthonia flavescens) stalk, taking it into one claw and eating only the soft lower parts which is a favourite food. The rest is discarded.
The Takah is monogamous (with pairs remaining from 12 years to, probably, their entire lives) builds a bulky nest under bushes and scrub and lays two buff eggs. It is territorial. The chick survival rate is 73-97%.
The species is still present in the location where it was rediscovered in the Murchison Mountains. Small numbers have also been successfully translocated to four predator-free offshore islands, Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Maud and Mana, where they can be viewed by the public. Additionally, captive Takah can be viewed at Te Anau and Mt Bruce wildlife centres. In June 2006 a pair of Takah were relocated to the Maungatautari Restoration Project. In January 2011 a small number of Takahe were released in Zealandia, Wellington. In total there were 225 remaining birds, but in July 2008, a Department of Conservation worker shot one on Mana Island, after mistaking it for a pukeko during a cull.
Formerly widespread, the near-extinction of the Takah is due to a number of factors: over-hunting, loss of habitat and introduced predators have all played a part. The introduction of red deer (Cervus elaphus) represent a severe competition for food, while the stoats (Mustela erminea) take a role as predators. The spread of the forests in post-glacial Pleistocene-Holocene has contributed to the reduction of habitat. Since the species is long-lived, reproduces slowly, takes several years to reach maturity, and had a large range that has drastically contracted in comparatively few generations, inbreeding depression is a significant problem. The recovery efforts are hampered especially by low fertility of the remaining birds. Genetic analyses have been employed to select captive breeding stock in an effort to preserve the maximum genetic diversity.