Stuffed huia returned 3 years after theft from Dannevirke museum

After almost three years, a stuffed huia bird which mysteriously disappeared from Dannevirke's Gallery of History has been returned.

The preserved female of the long-extinct bird had been gifted to the museum in 1990.

The gallery's vice-president, Murray Holden, said he felt complete seeing the birds back together.

"We're absolutely ecstatic about it to have her reunited with her mate for life. They weren’t complete without being together, so we were just over the moon about it," he said.

"I think it's fair to say we were all quite traumatised by it."

Holden said while two people who allegedly stole the bird is now before the courts, it "left quite an empty feeling for us here at the museum".

She was stolen from the museum in July 2020 – a day still fresh in the minds of staff.

It wasn't until last year the police found the stuffed huia.

Kapiti Police Detective Niall Deehan found the bird last July but she had to be sent to Te Papa for repairs.

"There is a lot of trust built up and this person told me where the huia was and I was not expecting that. It was 'what do I know?' So things started moving from there and it was completely out of the blue," Deehan said.

A powhiri took place at the local Mākirikiri Marae, where the returning female huia bird was gifted a name – Te kura pai, meaning something treasured and lost but then found.

Manahi Paewai, a kaumātua of the local iwi Rangitāne, said the huia bird is a loved taonga.

"There are a lot of local names. We had a settlement here back in the day called titi huia. It was about the fact there were plenty of huia birds that resided here and the feathers were used to adorn people of the time. Headwear and dress," Paewai said.

"We all know the tail feathers were prized possessions."

Huia pairs mated for life, using their different beaks to feed cooperatively.

Paewai said the male and female could not live without each other.

While the missing huia is now officially back, she's not quite ready to sit in the same cage as the other huia because of a missing leg.

The museum is in talks with Wētā Workshop to help repair the bird.


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