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Better survival chances for Wanaka skinks

11 April 2014

Better survival chances for Wanaka skinks

Eighty five endangered grand and Otago skinks have been collected near Wanaka in an operation led by the Department of Conservation (DOC) aimed at increasing their numbers.

Ongoing decline in western grand and Otago skink populations has prompted DOC and several other agencies to collect the skinks from their Grandview Range habitat in the Lindis. The skinks will be housed temporarily at zoos, wild life parks and ecosanctuaries throughout New Zealand, as part of a breed-for-release programme.

This programme aims to increase numbers of both species so they can be released back into secure sites within their former range, Grand and Otago Skink Project Manager Gavin Udy said.

“This project is a great example of conservation agencies and individuals working together to ensure the ongoing survival of an iconic, unique and endangered New Zealand species,” Mr Udy said. Since the collection, 21 juvenile skinks have been born in captivity from this group.

DOC’s Grand and Otago Skink Project looks after two groups of the animals – an eastern group and a western group. The eastern group near Macraes Flat is increasing as it is protected by DOC’s predator-proof fenced enclosure and extensive trapping.

Now the focus is on increasing numbers of the western group.

Other groups, organisations and stakeholders involved in the conservation effort include:

Auckland Zoo – supports predator control at key localities, staff helped with collection trips, quarantine and health screening of skinks, husbandry and technical advice. The main holder of skinks in the breed-for-release programme.

Wellington Zoo – quarantined the skinks, provided health screening and involved in the breed-for-release programme.

Kiwi Birdlife Park, Queenstown – holding and processing skinks prior to distribution to Wellington and Auckland Zoos for quarantine and long-term holding, quarantining of skinks, health screening and involvement in the breed-for-release programme.

Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust – involved in the breed-for-release programme.
NZ Herpetological Society – involved in the breed-for-release programme.

Zoo Aquarium Association (ZAA) – co-ordinates the conservation breed-for-release programme.

Central Otago Ecological Trust (COET) – provides a secure release site within its Mokomoko predator-proof fenced sanctuary near Alexandra.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary – provides a crèche enclosure within its predator-proof fence and provide education and advocacy for skink conservation.

University of Otago – subsidised genotyping for genetic matching of skinks.

Air New Zealand – transported the animals to safe new breeding sites around the country, through their partnership with DOC as provider of the Air New Zealand Threatened Species Translocation Programme.

DOC also thanks adjoining landowners and iwi for their support.

Grand and Otago skinks are unique to Otago and are two of New Zealand’s rarest reptiles. While once widespread across most of Otago, they are now largely restricted to a small area of eastern Otago where DOC carries out intensive predator management near Macraes Flat. The small western population in the Lindis area are genetically distinct.

Otago skinks are one of New Zealand’s largest lizards, reaching up to 30cm in length and living more than 18 years in the wild.

Otago skinks are distinctly marked, which is why southern Maori know them as mokomoko. Otago skinks are black with grey, green or yellowish blotches –providing great camouflage among the lichen-covered schist rocks they inhabit.


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