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Court decision offers snail better future

16 December 2005 - Wellington

High Court decision offers better future for endangered giant land snail

The High Court has today determined that the state coalminer, Solid Energy, must apply to both the Ministers of Conservation and Energy for permission to clear and mine the only remaining habitat of the endangered giant land snail Powelliphanta 'Augustus' on the Stockton Plateau, north east of Westport.
"This is an important decision that represents a reprieve for one of New Zealand's most ancient native species", said Forest and Bird Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell.

"Forest and Bird welcomes the court's decision because it should also benefit other threatened wildlife and habitats in future".
"Now it will be the Ministers, rather than the coalminer, that will decide the future of this endangered snail," he said. "The Ministers can decide not to sacrifice the giant land snails' only remaining habitat for the sake of supplying coal to overseas steel manufacturers. Even if the Ministers agree to the mining, they will be able to impose strict conditions which will ensure that P. 'Augustus' will not face extinction."

Forest and Bird sought the High Court declaration after the Government and Solid Energy took the position that approval under the Wildlife Act is not required to move some giant land snails and their habitat by mechanical diggers, or to kill the absolutely protected snails by open caste mining their last remaining habitat.

Both the Government and Solid Energy had agreed that approval is required to move some giant land snails by hand.

"It seemed crazy that the Government and Solid Energy could interpret the law as requiring permission to move giant land snails by hand, but permission was not need to move them by digger or to kill them by opencast mining their only remaining habitat", said Kevin Hackwell.

The High Court's has found that the position taken by the Government and Solid Energy was incorrect. The court has declared that section 71 of the Wildlife Act means that both the Ministers of Conservation and Energy must give consent - with whatever conditions they consider necessary for the welfare of the giant land snails - before Solid Energy can modify or mine the snails' habitat.

"This is a victory for conservation", Kevin Hackwell said. "Forest and Bird is pleased that the law has been clarified and is confident that the decision should lead to a more positive future for the continued survival of this unique New Zealand species of giant land snail."


All species of Powelliphanta land snails are absolutely protected under the Wildlife Act.

The giant snails belong to the oldest family of carnivorous land snails on earth, having originated about 200 million years ago.

Long isolation, a rugged, dissected topography, a wide range of climatic conditions and the absence of mammalian predators has given rise to a fantastic radiation in the land snail fauna of New Zealand. In addition to about 1500 species of pinhead-sized, mostly vegetarian snails, giant carnivorous snails have evolved here.

Both Paryphanta and Powelliphanta are endemic to New Zealand, with the genus Paryphanta represented by a single species found north of Auckland, and the large genus Powelliphanta (at least 21 species and 51 subspecies) occurring from East Cape to Fiordland.

Powelliphanta landsnails have fascinated people since they were first discovered. For most people, the beauty of their shining, colourful shells is the main attraction (and, until collecting the shells was made illegal in 1982, it was nearly a fatal attraction for the snails). Though the shell patterns vary greatly between species, most are delicately marked with numerous, variable bands in a myriad of shades of red, brown, yellow and black. The shell is usually very glossy. Some species are impressively large, such as the fist-sized, golden-shelled, P. superba prouseorum, which weighs as much as a tui.

With their large size and many forms, Powelliphanta snails represent the pinnacle of evolution of this distinctively Gondwanian land snail family. 'Powelliphanta snails are an evolutionary acme in snail carnivory and are just as significant as the equivalent bizarre peak of ornithological development that is the kiwi' (Climo 1986).

Because of the wide divergence of Powelliphanta from other Gondwanian land snails, it is thought that the ancestors of Powelliphanta were on the proto 'New Zealand' land mass at the breakup of Gondwanaland, 80 million years ago - along with ancestral tuatara, kiwi and moa.

Today, Powelliphanta are found in both the North and South Islands. The greatest diversity of species is in the mountains of North West Nelson. Despite the wide geographic spread of Powelliphanta, many New Zealanders have never seen a Powelliphanta snail as most species occupy relatively small, discrete areas.

See: Recovery plans for Powelliphanta land snails, 2003-2013
www.doc.govt.nz/Publications/004~Science-and-Research/ Biodiversity-Recovery-Unit/PDF/TSRP49.pdf - Supplemental Result -


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