After 200 years of absence, the world's rarest duck, the Campbell Island teal, went home yesterday with a great deal of tender loving care from the staff at Pukaha Mount Bruce Native Bird Reserve.
After months of preparation, 33 Campbell Island teal, bred in captivity at the bird reserve, were placed inside custom-built transfer boxes for a journey by air, road and boat.
It's the second of three planned releases of the birds to Campbell Island, which is a world heritage site, 700km southeast of the South Island.
Twenty-two other Campbell Island teal also went from Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to restore the Campbell Island population, which was almost wiped out by predators.
A concerted programme to eradicate the rats has enabled the return of teal to the island.
For several weeks leading up to the transfer, the captive breeding team at Pukaha Mount Bruce have been carrying out disease screening, vaccinations, attaching transmitters and checking them regularly to ensure that transmitters were a good fit, in preparation for the transfer.
Yesterday, the birds flew from Palmerston North to Invercargill and were driven to Bluff to board the MV Clan Mcleod, which was specially fitted to hold the birds. The journey to Campbell Island from Bluff takes about 48 hours.
They were accompanied on their journey by a Department of Conservation team and an Auckland Zoo vet.
This release will see the population on Campbell Island reach about 130 ? there are less than 180 worldwide. The boost to numbers will help ensure that the population becomes established quickly, resulting in a downgrading of their status from "critically endangered" to "threatened species".
The transfer yesterday took place 12 months after 21 teal, also bred in captivity at Pukaha Mount Bruce, made the trip to Campbell Island.
Thought to be extinct, the teal were rediscovered in 1975 on predator-free Dent Island a 26ha rock stack, 3km west of Campbell Island in the sub-Antarctic.
The Campbell Island teal recovery programme started in 1984 when a small number of birds were transferred to the Mount Bruce wildlife centre from Dent Island.
In 1997, a census carried out on Dent Island showed that the Campbell Island teal population had declined to dangerous levels with only three birds being found.
It took 10 years and a series of attempts at pairing birds, re-designing and purpose-building aviaries, creating ponds and planting vegetation, before Donald and Daisy finally produced two ducklings and remarkably, a further two in a second clutch of the season.
This marked a significant occasion for the captive breeding programme and essentially secured the future for Campbell Island teal.
During 12 years in captivity, as the only breeding wild origin female, Daisy reared 24 ducklings, which in turn produced another 39, securing the future of the species.
DOC programme manager Geoff Underwood says it was a pretty close call for Campbell Island teal.
"While this is now a very successful breeding programme, that wasn't always the case," he said.
"It's taken years of experience and trial and error, to develop the captive husbandry techniques necessary for breeding to occur.
"The Campbell Island teal breeding programme is a complex one and without the dedicated efforts of a number of people over several years, Campbell Island teal would probably be extinct right now."