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Takahē tenure

Takahē were once thought to be extinct but they’re successully breeding again, including on a Waikato farm behind the predator-proof fence of Maungatautari.

Images - photos of the Coopers and of takahe pair.

The Coopers are farmers with a difference. On their 155 hectare property on the flanks of Maungatautari in Kairangi they run beef, sheep and takahē.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the takahē – although they number only a few – Shelley and Glen might well have sold their farm and moved on.

Their farm was up for sale when Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust approached them about putting a takahē enclosure for the nationally threatened bird on land they own behind the mountain’s predator fence.

“When they first brought it up we were gutted because we were selling,” says Shelley, placing cups of tea on native bird coasters on the Coopers’ large dining room table.

They decided to downsize instead. “The takahē might have had something to do with us changing our mind.”

Shelley and Glen have lived in Kairangi their whole life. Maungatautari rises from their back paddock, although you can’t see it out the kitchen window. The terrain here is rugged and steep hill country, and the maunga with the takahē enclosure is one hill over, out of sight.

That’s one of the main reasons why the trust put the enclosure there, says Glen, because it’s nice and quiet, out of the way.

Here, the takahē can go about their breeding business in a natural and undisturbed environment – except when members of the Cooper family call in to visit.

“We have got family members that come out here, and I can imagine they come to see the takahē, not us,” laughs Shelley. “And it is something that if we had visitors we would take them up there to see.”

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari started as a local farmer’s dream to protect the plant and animal species of the forest. It has become a world-class conservation project, and Waikato Regional Council contributes $300,000 a year towards the maintenance of its predator-proof fence. The aim is to reintroduce species long lost to the maunga and have them breeding and repopulating there again. Kiwi, tuatara, stitchbird, North Island robin and kōkako have so far been returned to the mountain.

Takahē Brodie and Puiki are all part of the plan, too, and are doing an excellent job.

The Coopers helped release the breeding pair inside the 1-hectare enclosure in August this year, and already the takahē have hatched a chick.

The enclosure, called Coopers, is open grassland with a fast-running stream through it, perfect for raising takahē, which were once thought to be extinct.

“I’m up there all the time, going in and out, in and out,” says Glen, who has to enter the enclosure to access his dam and always looks out for the takahē when he’s there. “They just ignore me now, they’re not bothered by my presence.

“When you go there, you can hear them.”

“They make a kind of boom,” Shelley explains. “They hear you and see you, they’re always together, and they talk to each other. It’s quite special, yeah.”

Although farmers, the Coopers embraced the conservation project right from the start. “Most of the land behind the fence, you couldn’t use it any way,” says Glen. “

When they first started talking about fencing, it was a toss up between here and Pirongia, and I always hoped it would be near me rather than over there. I knew it was going to be a big thing.”