Bird experts and Chatham Islanders told David Crockett he was chasing a taipo (ghost), but the Whangarei man persisted, and 35 years ago this week, the taiko was re-discovered.
The Taiko Trust, a local conservation organisation on the Chathams, is marking the 35th anniversary of the taiko (magenta petrel or Pterodroma magentae) with a week-long series of events on the main Chatham island.
Mr Crockett and the team that made the original discovery on 1 January 1978 are returning to the Chathams, for the unveiling of a monument to the find that resurrected a species thought to be extinct. The unveiling takes place at 11am on Saturday January 26, but the events start on Wednesday January 23.
Open days are being held at the original ‘‘taiko camp’’ where volunteers working on the taiko re-discovery lived during the months they camped on the island waiting for the birds to return to breed. Other open days will be held at the new predator-free area on private land where a second breeding area is being set up. Activities will include night-time spot-lighting to watch for taiko.
Taiko Trust chairwoman Liz Tuanui said the week’s events would enable Chatham Islanders to celebrate with the original taiko team and to mark how far conservation on the islands had come.
Chatham Islanders were a key part of that, she said.
While Mr Crockett and other ornithologists had come to the islands to work on taiko, black robin, albatross and other species, the involvement of locals had been important too, she said.
About 20 people from the mainland are expected to attend the events, and interest is high locally, with about 20 per cent of the Chatham Island’s 500 population expected to be there as well.
The Taiko Trust is a partnership between local Chatham Island landowners and visiting ornithologists.
The trust works with locals to conserve native birds and bush habitats on private land, and educates young people and the community on the Chathams about conservation and the bird species on the islands.
Taiko are a night bird and live in burrows in the ground. Extremely rare, there are about 140 birds left. Taiko return to the Chatham Islands from sea late each year, and burrow underground where they nest and raise chicks.
The original birds were found on land owned by the Tuanui family, and this land has now become a significant conservation reserve.
The trust has a project where a second breeding colony is being set up on about 4 hectares of native bush on private land at Sweetwater protected by a predator fence to keep out the pests that eat the eggs and chicks.
Mrs Tuanui said that would be a turning point for the highly endangered species with a protected area being built to help the birds build up population numbers.
‘‘It’s a bit of a breakthough. It is an achievement for 10 years of slog for the trust.’’
Mrs Tuanui and her husband Bruce are significant landholders on the main Chatham Island. they have a real commitment to conservation with six convenants and seven private reserves on their land. Their commitment to conservation dates back to the late 1960s, when Mr Crockett first came to the island looking for taiko. Then only a teenager, Bruce went with him on those expeditions from the start.
At the time, Mr Crockett and his supporters were told they were chasing a taipo (ghost) not a taiko. Even respected ornithologists were telling them the same.
After the taiko was re-discovered on Tuanui land in 1978, Bruce’s parents Manuel and Evelyn Tuanui, gifted it to the Crown, a more than 1000 hectare block of bush, now known at the Tuku Reserve.
Mrs Tuanui said that while what Manuel and Evelyn did wasn’t the norm in those times, today Chatham Islanders were much more aware and proud of their conservation heritage.
‘‘It’s almost an integral part of the Chathams now. Everyone would know what a taiko was, many people were involved in the work to find them and the work to look after them now. There’s lots of community involvement.’’As well as the work with the taiko, the Taiko Trust has re-introduced Chatham Island tui to the main Chatham Island from its remnant habitat on South East Island and plans to re-introduce the Chatham Island albatross to the main Chatham Island from its remnant habitat on The Pyramid.