Takahē Discoverer Dies

Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 15th, 2007


The Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri ). Photo: New Zealand’s Mount Bruce Organization.

Geoffrey Orbell (October 7, 1908 – August 15, 2007) was a doctor and keen tramper/bush walker best known for the rediscovery of the Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri ) in 1948. The Takahē was widely thought to be extinct but Orbell suspected it might survive. While taking time off from his Invercargill practice to search for the Takahē, he discovered a set of unfamiliar footprints. After following the footprints with three companions he rediscovered the species on November 20, 1948, in a remote valley of the Murchison Mountains near Lake Te Anau. A lake in the valley was named Lake Orbell in his honor.

We returned to where we had found the tracks on our last trip. Suddenly, quite near this spot, a large blue-green bird stepped out from among the snow tussock. And there, no more than twenty metres away from us stood a living Notornis, the bird that was supposed to be extinct.Dr Geoffrey Orbell, November 20, 1948.

The New Zealand doctor who rediscovered rare flightless bird died at the age of 98.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Doctor Geoffrey Orbell, who rediscovered a flightless bird that was believed extinct almost 60 years ago, has died in the southern city of Dunedin, his family said Wednesday. He was 98.

No one had seen a live takahe — a unique blue-green, hen-like bird with a bright red bill — since the late 1890s, when Orbell and three companions found a small colony in Fiordland on South Island in November 1948. The discovery stunned the world of ornithology and made front-page news across the globe.

Geoffrey Buckland Orbell was born Oct. 7, 1908, at Pukeuri on South Island, and educated at Waitaki Boys’ High School and Christ’s College before attending Otago University. He graduated in medicine and chemistry in 1934, then went to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London where he received a Diploma in Ophthalmic Medicine and Surgery.

He later set up as an ear, eye, nose and throat specialist clinic in the southern New Zealand town of Invercargill where he ran a practice for 46 years. He also performed surgery at Southland Hospital and ran a private hospital. Orbell didn’t retire from medicine until he was 70.

In his leisure time, Orbell lived an outdoor life, fishing, hunting and exploring.

As a boy, Orbell had been fascinated with the takahe ever since he spotted a photograph in Dunedin’s Otago Museum.

“From hearsay and from stories told around camp fires … I picked up little bits of information,” newspapers Wednesday cited him as saying in his journals. “These and other stories added circumstantial evidence of the existence of Notornis mantelli.”

Accompanied by experienced bush men Rex Watson and Neil McCrostie, and his fiancee Joan Telfer, Orbell went to the unexplored Murchison Mountains in November 1948 in hopes of finding the bird there.

Orbell shot a full roll of colored movie film as he followed two takahe across some tussock-covered ground in the mountains.

“When I stood up, the birds were no more perturbed than hens and only moved a few feet into the snow grass where the (capture) net was quietly circled around them,” he wrote.

Almost 300 takahe (Notornis mantelli) now live in Fiordland and other sanctuaries thanks to careful husbandry and breeding programs.

An expert hunter and crack shot, Orbell helped found the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, became its first president in 1938 and held the post until 1952.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II made him a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1953.

Orbell is survived by his wife, Sheila, one son and two daughters. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

Source: Live-PR.com.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

One Response to “Takahē Discoverer Dies”

  1. Ceroill responds:

    My thoughts and best wishes go out to his family and friends.

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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