Snail Care Continues Over Lockdown
1400 rare Powelliphanta augusta snails in Hokitika continue to be fed and cared for over the lockdown period by Department of Conservation rangers working in isolation.
The snails live in refrigerated containers, on beds of moss, and are fed 4-6 worms a month. Powelliphanta snails are unique in that they are carnivorous, unlike garden snails in New Zealand which are an introduced species and eat foliage.
As well as being fed, the bedding material for the snails is changed, snails are measured and weighed, and the worm farm which feeds the snails is maintained. This work is essential to the health and wellbeing of this unique population.
The snails were taken into captivity after an extensive and detailed search during 2006-07 because the majority of their habitat on the Stockton Plateau was to be mined.
There are 16 Powelliphanta snail species in New Zealand and 57 subspecies, and they have each evolved quite separately and adapted to the environmental conditions where they are found – this means they are sensitive to changes in elevation, temperature, rainfall and forest composition.
Nicole Kunzmann, DOC Hokitika District Operations Manager says, “We have learnt a lot about these snails over the years and are breeding them successfully. Whilst we are releasing the offspring and eggs of these snails regularly, we are not yet comfortable to release the entire captive population.
“Everything about these snails happens slowly, including breeding, and they can live to be up to 20 years of age. Whilst we are monitoring wild populations of these snails with a view to release them all in time, we don’t yet have enough information to be satisfied that the areas where transferred snails have been established in the wild will be suitable for them in the long term.”
Most of DOC’s work with wildlife is on hold while the country is under alert level 4 unless it’s essential to deal with a significant hazard to public health and safety.
On hold work includes non-essential work with wildlife such as monitoring species in the field, monitoring pests, deploying technology like cameras, weed control, checking traps and undertaking predator control operations.
DOC will continue essential care for animals such as kaki/black stilt, takahe and other species held in captive facilities provided this can be done in a way that is safe for staff and meets requirements for minimal contact under alert level 4.
Conservation institutes and facilities looking after native species on behalf of DOC can also continue essential care of wildlife provided they meet the government’s criteria for essential work under Alert Level 4.