Department of Conservation (DOC) and TVNZ 7 have just completed shooting the latest (third) instalment of “Meet the Locals”, a series of mini-documentaries that feature some of New Zealand’s most amazing native critters – and the people passionate about saving them.
Otago wildlife stole the show this year. Eight of the ten episodes shot in the South Island feature the region’s wild residents, three of them set in the Catlins. “It’s a privilege to be asked to showcase some of our beautiful critters, especially on national television which reaches such a wide audience,” said DOC ranger Les Judd.
Ms Judd is one of two new presenters of the series, taking over from original presenter, Nic Vallance. Ms Judd is no stranger to Otago wildlife - the 27-year-old’s “day job” is working with Grand and Otago skinks at Macraes Flat, and she is based in DOC’s Coastal Otago Area Office (Dunedin).
In the Catlins, Ms Judd joined local conservationist Brian O’Callaghan as well as DOC ranger Cheryl Pullar to find out more about conservation in South Otago. “The Catlins is a real wildlife hotspot, but surprisingly not everybody realises just how special the area is in terms of wildlife,” Ms Judd said. “Take the royal spoonbills, an Aussie bird that’s made itself at home on parts of the New Zealand coastline. There’s a colony nesting on the rock stack near Nugget Point, but people often mistake them for kotuku (white herons) or even gannets.”
The two other Catlins stories focussed on the Nugget Point kekeno/New Zealand fur seal colony and rare hōiho/yellow-eyed penguin chicks in a nearby coastal forest. “The chicks are carefully monitored by DOC, which includes weighing and measuring them before they fledge and head out to sea. It was amazing to get up close and personal with them,” said Ms Judd.
“Meet the Locals” is a great way for the rest of New Zealand to get a sneak peak into the private lives of their native animal neighbours. “For the past 15 years there has been very little New Zealand wildlife on free-to-air television, which is ironic because we’re blessed with so many amazing creatures,” said DOC community relations officer Claudia Babirat. “Almost daily I get asked why there isn’t more New Zealand wildlife on national TV. “Meet the Locals” is definitely a step in the right direction.”
The new series of “Meet the Locals” will be screened on TVNZ 7 after the channel officially launches in March this year. The episodes will also be available on the TVNZ 7 and on this website.
- Other Otago wildlife that have been recognised as having ‘star quality’ include nesting royal albatross at Taiaroa Head, other bird species that have made Taiaroa Head their home, Otago Peninsula’s beautiful jewelled geckos, little blue penguins in Oamaru, and Grand and Otago skinks. The other two episodes were filmed in the Kaikoura area, and tell the story of Hutton’s shearwaters, which feed out at sea but nest in colonies high up in the mountain range.
- Ms Judd has been passionate about wildlife and conservation since she was a little girl. On completion of a postgraduate wildlife management diploma at University of Otago five years ago, she joined DOC’s Dunedin-based Grand and Otago skink team. She alternates between working in the field monitoring the rare reptiles (there are only around 2000 left in the wild), and leading a captive breeding programme aimed at enhancing their numbers. According to Ms Judd, she has “the best job in the world” – and she’s stoked that her favourite reptiles will be among those featured in the new series.
- The 10 North Island episodes of “Meet the Locals” are presented by DOC ranger James Reardon. Mr Reardon is based in DOC’s Southland Conservancy Office, (Invercargill), where he works in threatened fauna recovery and ecosystem management.