WELLINGTON, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- One of the world's oldest and most distinctive songbird species might be coming back from the brink of extinction thanks to a relocation project that established a new population on an almost predator-free island, New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) announced Monday.
A DOC team had relocated 41 tiny alpine rock wrens (also known as tuke in Maori) from around Fiordland in the far southwest of the South Island to Secretary Island over 2008 to 2011, and the number had grown to 66 in April, said a DOC statement.
"The increased safety of the island, a place where predators pose a lesser threat, provides insurance against the birds' steady demise on the mainland," DOC ranger Megan Willans said in the statement.
Of the 66 birds on the island, where the population of predatory stoats was tightly controlled, 63 had hatched and fledged there, indicating the birds have settled in well enough to breed.
The rock wren is the only true alpine bird in New Zealand and one of the most ancient bird species in the world.
They stem from a species present more than 80 million years ago and have no close structural resemblance to any other group of birds in the world.
Of the seven wren species that lived in New Zealand when humans arrived, the rock wren and the rifleman are the only two species surviving today.
Their distribution throughout their native western South Island habitat is now fragmented, and recent sightings indicated that about 20 percent of known localities have had no sightings in the past 20 years.
Rock wrens are vulnerable to predation by stoats and mice. Both species prey on rock wren chicks and eggs on the nest and stoats also take adults at nest sites.
The alpine rock wren is one of a large number of New Zealand native species that experts believe could be extinct within 50 years without measures to save them.