The story of the Chatham Islands Black Robin is an incredible one, and an indication of the success of the New Zealand conservation efforts.
Obviously, according to its name, the black robin is a small black bird only found on the Chatham Islands and thus is unique to New Zealand. Its Latin name is Petroica traversi, and it is named after the European robin, although the two birds are not related.
In 1980 there were incredibly only 5 black robins left in the world – three males and two females. This included only one breeding pair called Old Blue and Old Yellow. For many centuries, the black robins had lived on the Chatham Islands, but in the early 20th century after the Europeans had settled in New Zealand, the black robin population was only to be found on Little Mangere Island.
Although the ruggedness of the landscape on the island meant that it was safe from predators, it also meant that it was a difficult habitat for the black robins. The physiology of the robins meant that their tiny wings did not enable them to fly off to find another more suitable habitat. By 1972, only 18 black robins were found to be living on the island. Four years later there were only seven robins left.
This required drastic action and so the group was moved to Mangere Island where there were more trees (120,000 planted recently) and was a more conducive home to the black robin’s survival. But by 1980, two birds had died and none had reproduced.
This world population of only 5 black robins called for drastic action and it involved a ‘fostering programme’ that has been emulated around the world as an example of how to breed endangered birds for their species’ survival. When black robins laid eggs, they were moved to the nests of other birds – Chatham Island tits – so that they would take care of them and rear them as their own. This amazingly proved to be a successful gambit and as a result, the black robin population numbers around 250, residing on both Mangere Island and South East Island.
The biggest threat currently is from the limited gene pool of the current population, descended as they are from the same breeding pair which means that one disease could wipe them out. Conservation efforts still continue, but due to the tiny population, the bird is still classified as critically endangered.