• Patrick McBride

Lizard finds in South Westland excite

DOC rangers on the West Coast have struck gold, with the discovery of two lizard species in the Okarito Sanctuary, near the township of Franz Josef.

A gecko, identified as the elusive Okarito or broad-cheeked gecko (Mokopirirakau “Okarito”), was last encountered decades ago. Very little is known about it with just a handful of records and sightings over the years.

Te Runanga o Makaawhio Chairman Paul Madgwick welcomed the discovery as an "exciting find" of a taonga species on the brink of extinction.

Rheanne Sullivan, Biodiversity Ranger in South Westland says; "With the species currently classed as 'data deficient’, our focus now is to improve our understanding of its ecology and conservation needs. Finding them is just the beginning.”

This is the second exciting lizard discovery in Okarito in the last year after a Canterbury grass skink was found by a member of the local community predator control programme while out checking traps. It turned out to be an important find and expanded the species’ known range, as it has never previously been recorded as far south on the West Coast as Okarito.

Like many of New Zealand’s native species, introduced predators like rodents, ferrets and weasels, hedgehogs and cats have caused a drastic decline in lizard populations. As lizards are ectothermic (cold-blooded), the cold makes them even more vulnerable as they are simply too slow to escape from introduced mammalian predators.

Despite New Zealand’s reputation for birdlife, it could arguably be known as the land of lizards, as our small country boasts one of the most diverse groups of lizards of any temperate region in the world.

New Zealand has 43 recognised species of gecko, 64 species of skink and a high likelihood of many more to be discovered as genetic identification techniques improve and new species are found in remote areas.

If you see a lizard, especially on the West Coast or in the alpine zone, let your local DOC office know or email lizardresearch@doc.govt.nz. It could be an important discovery!