Get links to publicly available information about cultural values and tīkanga associated with lizards. This will help those who want to keep lizards in captivity, but may be of interest to others.

The Māori name for lizards varies around the country and includes ngārara, karara and mokomoko.

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Local advice

Listed below is information provided by iwi from around the country. If you would like to find out more about this kaupapa (topic), you may want to get in touch with your local whānau/hapū/iwi. Those that are happy to be contacted have provided their contact details below. Note that they are busy people and many work as volunteers for their whānau/hapū/iwi.

If you represent whānau/hapū/iwi and would like to make a contribution to this page or have your contact details included, contact us at or talk to your local DOC office.

Te Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai

Area: Kaptiti Coast

Ngārara are valued as a source of energy, life and mauri that has sustained the people and the land of Te Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai. They are respected because of their whakapapa; their genealogical and ecological relationships with the environment and people. They are of ancient origin and we consider them our tuakana, or elder siblings.

Ngārara are sensitive to changes in systems and are recognised as important tohu or indicator species. They are considered tapu, as they are also recognised as a social mechanism of restriction in that they indicate a need for caution, or convey messages of warning. Ngārara are the spiritual kaitiaki, or caretakers, or the people, the water and the land.

Nga Ruahine

Area: Taranaki

Contact: Policy Team 

Lizards (Ngārara) are important and significant to Māori, and are steeped in cultural and spiritual importance. Within Taranaki (and Whanganui), there is a Māori belief held that Tū-tangata-kino (a spiritual reptile) “guarded the house of Miru, ruler of the underworld” – see Ngārara reptiles.

For Māori, whilst lizards could be feared and seen as a bad omen – representing Whiro (darkness and death), they are often used as guardians, and released near the burial sites of loved ones, and used as a talisman and kaitiaki, as a means to offer protection for important whare / buildings. The placement of the lizard would inspire fear for prospective trespassers, and show that the protection of the atua (gods) has been placed on the tapu place – see Myths concerning lizards.

Lizards are therefore to be considered as sacred creatures, which have an important role for Māori – easing the process to hold them in captivity is therefore of concern. 

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