With big red beaks and blue and green feathers, New Zealand’s takahe is one of the rarest species on the planet. For decades, the chicken-size birds were thought to be extinct, killed off by introduced feral cats, ferrets and rats. But a small population survived in the wild and there are now about 500 after years of efforts to boost their numbers, including 18 recently released in the mountains of the South Island. Why go to all this effort? Takahe have strong cultural links with the Maori and also perform vital functions, such as seed dispersal. The programme is one of many around the globe trying to save highly endangered or locally extinct animals and plants as a way to arrest the alarming loss of nature and to help restore the natural balance of damaged ecosystems.
Nature is a highly complex web of life where everything is interlinked. Millions of species of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms such as bacteria all play key roles in creating different ecosystems, from rainforests to coral reefs. Think of a symphony orchestra working in harmony and then imagine several key instruments suddenly missing from the performance. In short, every species matters. In neighbouring Australia, there are programmes to reintroduce golden bandicoots, bilbies, burrowing bettongs and other native species whose numbers have been decimated by foxes, feral cats and habitat destruction. These species are being reintroduced into predator-proof fenced areas with the aim of eventually releasing some back into the wild.
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