$1m takahē sponsorship deal announced

Joan Watson in Nov 1948 holding the first takahē to be seen in more than 50 years
Joan Watson in Nov 1948 holding the first takahē to be seen in more than 50 years

The Department of Conservation (DOC) and Fulton Hogan have announced a new partnership agreement worth $1 million over five years to support the Takahē Recovery Programme.

There are fewer than 300 takahē and it's hoped the new sponsorship agreement will help bring the critically endangered species, which was thought to be extinct for half a century, back from the brink.

Newshub tracked down Joan Watson, 90, in Invercargill who was in the party that re-discovered the takahē in Fiordland's Murchison mountains in 1948.

She says the day they made the historic discovery they left Te Anau at 3am by boat, crossing the lake, then tramped to what is now known as Takahē Valley.

"We looked through the snow grass and there was this bright red beak. I couldn't believe my eyes. Then I began to realise that this was something quite special."

Dr Geoffrey Orbell, who led the party, gently ushered two birds into a net Ms Watson and the other two members of the party were holding - Ms Watson's then-boyfriend and future husband, Rex, and Neil McCrostie.

Then 22, Ms Watson wasn't about to let history slip through her fingers.

"As soon as I could see it in the netting, I pounced on it. Almost strangled it and held it," she remembers. "They were kicking and snapping and squealing, screaming and carrying on.

"I just thought, 'Goodness gracious me, this is it. We're on to it.'"

Ms Watson caught the takahē, and in doing so caught the attention of the world. The story appeared in Time magazine and in the same edition of the Illustrated London News as Prince Charles' christening.

Dr Geoffrey Orbell is the person history credits with the re-discovery, with the lake where the birds were found renamed Lake Orbell in his honour. But the only surviving member of that party is happy with her place in history, and says it's wonderful Fulton Hogan and DOC have partnered to help the bird, which has already cheated extinction once.

Joan Watson and Newshub reporter Samantha Hayes (Newshub.)

Fulton Hogan director of investments and associates Bob Fulton says the partnership is exciting.

"We've always supported communities where we've worked and this is just a bigger community and one which [we're] pretty excited about being part of.

"It's a great story about being under the radar. That's our style, and we really think the people who work on this programme are amazingly passionate about getting on and doing their thing out of the limelight," he says. "That was part of the story that compelled us to come on board with the takahē."

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