New Zealand's endangered takahe species has lost one of its most famous members - Greg, the patriarch of Tiritiri Matangi.

The 19-year-old bird died at Auckland Zoo while being assessed for health problems yesterday. Although the exact cause of death is unknown, Greg had lost weight and feathers after frequent run-ins with younger, more assertive takahe vying for territory around the island's lighthouse.

Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi chairman Peter Lee said Greg would be missed.

"Greg was great at engaging the public. He was an expert at winning people over and at times even at stealing their lunch. Wherever there were people Greg was there, he became the personal face of rare species and helped tell the whole conservation story."


Greg was 18 months old when he arrived on the island in 1994, quickly getting down to the crucial job of boosting the country's small takahe population. He became so popular a children's book was written about him.

Jess Clarke, Department of Conservation ranger at the island, said his contribution to New Zealand's 260-strong takahe population was significant.

"Greg's genes live on, with one of his chicks, Ahikaea, continuing to breed on Tiritiri and another chick, Ella, now a founder of a population across the water on Motutapu Island. Greg has certainly left a legacy."

DoC spokeswoman Liz Maire said the island's breeding programme would go on without Greg, but as an advocate for his species he was unrivalled.

"I'm not sure why his nature meant he was far less inhibited by people, but he quickly learned people were associated with food ... he lost his fear of humans very quickly, and therefore it allowed people to get very close."

Takahe were introduced to Tiritiri Matangi in 1991 as part of a national recovery programme. There are 13 remaining on the island.