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Duvaucel’s Geckos Return to Ipipiri – 13 February 2018

The rainy summer may be dampening the spirits of our visiting tourists but it’s great weather for geckos and put a big smile on the face of Project Island Song’s Project Manager, Richard Robbins. Monday 5 February was the latest native species reintroduction to Ipipiri, the Eastern Bay of Islands, this time 50 Duvaucel’s geckos. “The release day was blisteringly hot, so this rain and cooler temperatures is a real plus for us and our precious new arrivals” says Richard.

The translocation team was made up of seven skilled and hardworking members from Guardians of the Bay, Te Rawhiti Hapū, Ngātiwai who gifted ngā taonga, NorthTec, and DOC. They were guided by Ben Barr from NorthTec who provided his extensive herpetological knowledge and skill to the operation.

The geckos were captured by hand on Mauimua/Lady Alice Island in the Hen and Chicken Islands, east of Whangarei. “Mauimua is an inspiration” says Richard, “there is just so much native wildlife everywhere! There are tuataras on the ground, sea birds wheeling overhead, and geckos by the thousand.” This is the sixth endemic animal species to be relocated by Project Island Song, but the first for a reptile and it was agreed very exciting and rewarding for all involved.

Duvaucel’s are the nation’s largest lizard, growing up to 30cm. Endemic to New Zealand they were once prolific on the North Island mainland before the introduction of pest mammals, but are now sadly extinct except for a few wildlife sanctuaries like Ipipiri. Comfortable over a wide range of habitats the geckos are omnivorous and arboreal, so hopefully they are already taking advantage of the island’s bug population, nectar and fruit. They will be a very welcome additional pollinator and seed disperser filling a special niche in the islands’ natural ecology says Richard.

Of the 50 re-located animals 34 were female and, as hoped, the majority were hapu/pregnant. As the offspring were probably not sired by the relocated males it has the happy consequence of increasing the genetic diversity of the founding population. They give birth live once a year and usually to twins.

“Our longterm supporter Explore Group, along with Barefoot Adventure Charters, Albatross and other private boat owners ferried 80 excited Project Island Song supporters out to the islands on a brilliantly blue Bay of Islands day” Richard said. All got to see the big moment when the not so little fellows were let out of their specially made transport canisters and most got a chance to do their own release.

The lizards are thought to live between 50 and 70 years so it’s a wonderful thought that these baby geckos could still be around for our children’s children to enjoy. “Making sure the geckos new island home is free from pests will go a long way to protecting them”, DOC Community Rang Helen Ough Dealy remarked. Anyone landing on the pest-free islands of the Bay is encouraged to do their bit by checking for rats, mice, plague skinks and Argentine ants in their gear and on their vessels. If anything suspicious is seen, please report it in to 0800 DOC HOT or pest@projectislandsong.co.nz.

Background information
Project Island Song is a partnership between the Guardians of the Bay of Islands (a local community group), Te Rawhiti hapu (Ngati Kuta and Patukeha) and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

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