Close-up of water dragon
Image: Michael Kean | ©


A rogue Australian water dragon has been removed from Papaitonga Scenic Reserve near Levin, prompting DOC to remind people not to dump unwanted pets on conservation land.

Date:  28 March 2024

Water dragons are a native Australian semi-aquatic lizard and are considered a threat to New Zealand wildlife. Young water dragons are fully insectivorous, supplementing their diets with plants as they grow, and pose a significant threat to local biodiversity.

Kelly Hancock, DOC Manawatu Operations District Supervisor, says while the exotic lizard has been humanely euthanised, DOC rangers don’t want to add dragon slaying to their job descriptions.

“Letting a pet go in your local reserve might seem like the humane option, but many pets aren’t equipped to survive in the wild or can cause damage to the ecosystem if they do,” says Kelly.

“New Zealand weather is too cold for most species of lizards, so they will likely die during winter if outdoors, but if they do manage to survive, they may spread diseases and prey on native plants and animals.”

“We think this one may have been at large in the reserve for a while, so removing it is a big win. The native wildlife will be safer now the invasive dragon has been caught.”

New Zealand’s ecosystems are not equipped to handle invasive species like water dragons or other exotic pets. Lizards, turtles, and even goldfish can wreak havoc on our ecosystems if released into the wild.

Kelly’s advice for lizard owners who are no longer able to care for their pets is to find them a new home.

“Don't ever release exotic lizards anywhere,” says Kelly. “They may prey on endangered species, compete with them for food, or transmit diseases that could wreak havoc on our native lizards, which have no immunity.”

“Animal welfare organisations like your local SPCA can give advice on how to surrender unwanted pets. This is kinder, not just for the pet, but for our taonga native species as well.”


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