Date: 17 May 2013
The survival chances of one of New Zealand’s most endangered lizards has taken a turn for the better with a new sponsorship by Auckland Zoo aimed at protecting Otago skinks in the Grandview Range, near Wanaka.
The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund has provided initial funding of more than $17,000 to control predators and monitor the rare skink as part of a five-year sponsorship of the Department of Conservation’s skink protection project in this area.
The success of DOC’s skink programme in eastern Otago shows how important predator control is for the survival of Otago skinks and other native reptiles, says Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Fauna Curator Richard Gibson.
“Auckland Zoo is very excited to be playing a part in what we hope will be an equally remarkable recovery of western populations in the Grandview Range.
“But it is going to be a long-haul and entirely dependent upon the tireless commitment and cooperation of DOC, the local community volunteers and landowners, as well as the zoo,” says Mr Gibson.
Otago and grand skink were once widespread across the Otago tussock and schist rock landscape but are now restricted to remnant populations at the eastern and western edges of their former range, says Andy Hutcheon, DOC recovery manager for the two skinks.
“Until very recently it was feared that within a decade both skinks could dwindle away to a point from which they could not return. Sponsorship like this go someway to ensuring that fate will not now be the case,” says Mr Hutcheon.
The funding has already been put to good use with 19 kms of traps lines (168 traps) laid in the high tussock grasslands on the Grandview Range to protect 580 ha of the skink’s habitat.
Last week staff and volunteers checked these for the first time, netting 18 predators (nine ferrets, one stoat, four hedgehogs, three mice and one possum) - a “pleasing result given a recently completed TB posisoning operation in that area”, says DOC Wanaka Area Office Manager Paul Hellebrekers.
The sponsorship will cover the ongoing operating costs of the predator control and monitoring programme, and will also aim to raise public awareness about the Otago skink.
Otago skink monitoring team on Grandview Range. From left to right Paul Hellebrekers (DOC Area Manager) Sharon Haarsma, (DOC ranger), Flo Glaud (DOC ranger) with volunteers Marilyn Barlow, Jill Miller, John Barlow, Dave Kerr and Eric Latta
Otago and grand skink are unique to Otago and are two of New Zealand’s rarest reptiles.
Otago skinks are critically endangered - the same classification as takahē and kākāpō. They are one of New Zealand’s largest lizards reaching up to 30 cm in length and living in excess of 18 years in the wild. These lizards were once spread across most of Otago but now are largely restricted to a small area of eastern Otago where DOC carries out intensive predator management near Macraes Flat. Some small, genetically distinct populations of grand and Otago skinks also still remain in the Lindis area.
This species is an avid sunbather, is omnivorous - eating insects and fruits - and doesn't hibernate despite the cold in winter but remains active on fine days. It gives birth to two to three live young each year that are perfect miniature replicas of their parents.
Otago skinks are distinctively marked, which is why southern Māori know them as mokomoko. They are black with grey, green or yellowish blotches - providing great camouflage amid the lichen-covered schist rocks they inhabit.
The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund (AZCF), established by Auckland Zoo staff in 2000, raises funds to directly support conservation efforts in the wild in New Zealand and overseas. As well as providing financial support, the Fund enables Zoo staff to contribute specialist skills to conservation projects, and gain new skills that in turn help the Zoo. For more about the Fund, visit Auckland Zoo website.
Annette Grieve, DOC Wanaka
Ph: +64 3 443 5701
Senior media and communications coordinator, Auckland Zoo
Ph: Z+64 9 360 3804 or +64 27 291 9773