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Wellingtonians meet their wild ‘locals’

15 September 2008

Wellingtonians meet their wild ‘locals’

Images: Sue Galbraith/Department of Conservation.

Karin Wiley of the Wellington Native Bird Rescue Trust with a little blue penguin that she nursed back to health after it was found close to death on a Kapiti beach.


Wellingtonians got up close and personal with some of their elusive local native wildlife at a Conservation Week event aimed at improving their habitat.

A green gecko, giant and tree weta, and two little blue penguins were the star attractions at the Department of Conservation-hosted Meet the locals event at Otari-Wilton’s Bush yesterday. A kaka made an unexpected appearance too, ironically during a talk on the return of native birds to Wellington.

The event was run by DOC’s Poneke Area office to encourage Wellingtonians to help protect the local ecosystem by creating habitat in their gardens for lizards and weta, keeping an eye out for pests in waterways, respecting marine wildlife, and building penguin nesting boxes.

Click for big version
Kezia Shepherd, 4, cautiously observes a giant weta.


Amanda Todd, a gecko expert from DOC, showed participants a green gecko as she explained how they could protect lizards from “your furry friend the cat” - by providing garden refuges in the form of prickly plants such as speargrass and matagouri, and Muehlenbeckia astonii, with its dense tangle of branches. Native vines, which they like to climb, connect them to different parts of the garden. They can hide in and eat the fruit of coprosma and eat the nectar of plants such as flax, mänuka and koromiko.

“Lizards like messy, untidy gardens. They don’t like mown lawns,” Amanda said.
“Provide some areas that you can plant out thickly with tussock, flax and cabbage trees.”

Old tiles, bricks, and roofing iron can also be used to provide shelter for lizards.

Entomologist George Gibbs produced a Wellington tree weta as he explained how they like to crawl into holes made by other insects, and occasionally occupy gumboots. These nocturnal creatures fight each other for possession of the best “galleries” in trees. Humans can help by making “motels” for weta – two hinged pieces of wood with crevices (rooms) inside that can be nailed to trees in the garden. (A plan can be obtained from George through DOC’s Poneke Area Office). Weta can sometimes be heard at night rubbing their legs on the side of their body to talk to each other.

A rare giant weta, on loan for the day from Matiu/Somes Island, took centre stage. Giant weta, which date back to the dinosaur, have long been absent from the mainland. Because they are smelly and ground dwelling, they are vulnerable to predators like rats. But a thriving population has been re-established on Matiu/Somes, which is free from mammalian predators.

DOC ranger Bex Wolfe introduced another of Wellington’s smelly but much loved wild neighbours – the little blue penguin, the world’s smallest penguin. She is trialling a new penguin monitoring system on Matiu/Somes Island, which involves inserting a microchip under the penguin’s skin to keep track of it.

The crowd clamoured to get a peek of two live penguins, found on Wellington and Kapiti beaches after recent storms and lovingly restored to health by Karin Wiley from the Wellington Native Bird Rescue Trust. She explained how one had been brought from the brink of death. Anyone finding storm wrecked or injured penguins should call the DOC Hotline 0800 362 468.

Donna Sherlock from Forest and Bird explained how people could help protect penguin habitat by participating in the Places for penguins project, which involves protecting and enhancing habitat around Wellington Harbour. More than a dozen penguin nesting boxes, and almost 100 pest tracking tunnels, that provide a fun way of monitoring mammalian pests in gardens, were created by families at the event, under the watchful eye of Jenny Lynch from Forest and Bird’s Kiwi Conservation Club.

The return of native forest birds to Wellington was the theme of a talk by DOC’s Dr Colin Miskelly who said increased vegetation on Wellington’s hillsides because of wildlife suppression, the opening of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, and predator control by Greater Wellington Regional Council had seen a resurgence of native birds in the capital. This was confirmed by the appearance overhead of a noisy kaka, a native parrot seen regularly in the Otari Wilton’s Bush following its recent reintroduction to the Karori Sanctuary. While some of the rarer birds introduced into the sanctuary – such as stitchbird and kiwi - were at risk from the 600 or so cats per square kilometre the city if they “jumped the fence” , tui were more prevalent in the urban setting than in forest parks, where cats are rare but stoats abound.

DOC’s David Moss highlighted a predator lurking in some Kapiti waterways. Removed recently from some garden ponds in Kapiti and Horowhenua, Koi carp are like dustbusters, stirring up sediment and destroying the habitat of our native freshwater species. Other threats were aquarium weeds, garden weeds and didymo, which has not yet reached the North Island. He urged people to Check, clean and dry equipment being used in South Island waterways before introducing it to ours; and carefully dispose of weeds, so they don’t clog up our waterways.

“If you jump into the Buller River and take damp togs over on the ferry and then jump into a North Island waterway wearing them, you’ve probably just introduced didymo!”

DOC marine biologist Helen Kettles introduced participants to some of the 600 marine species confirmed recently on Wellington’s south coast, where the Taputeranga Marine Reserve has just been created. They include hag fish, which scavenges debris from the seafloor; blue moki, which travel from as far south as Stewart Island to breed in Gisborne; and blue cod, which stay close to home at the bottom of the ocean and have been known to face off with divers. With protection, marine species will be able to grow to their full size.

“We may enjoy seeing very large paua and large rock lobster close to shore, appreciating them in their natural habitat rather than on a dinner plate.”


For more information and to find out how to order a plan for a weta motel please contact Matt Barnett from DOC’s Poneke Area Office. email: mbarnett@doc.govt.nz

For pest tracking tunnels contact Jenny Lynch: j.lynch@forestandbird.org.nz

Visit the DOC website to find out more about our local native plants and animals, and places you can visit in the Wellington region: www.doc.govt.nz

Visit the Forest and Bird website to find out more about the Places for penguins project: www.forestandbird.org.nz

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