OTAGO AND GRAND SKINK HABITAT PROTECTEDConservation
Conservation Minister, Nick Smith today announced the protection of the habitat containing the largest surviving population of both the Otago and grand skinks in a major land swap deal.
"This is a crucial breakthrough in the plan to save two of New Zealand's rarest and biggest native lizards. These skinks are in the top rank of threatened species. Their range has contracted drastically from being common across the whole of Otago around the turn of the century. They are now found in two main locations of only a few square kilometres in extent, near Macraes and the Lindis Pass."
The skinks grow to between 250-300 mm in length and can weigh up to 35 grams. They are different in appearance and prefer different aspects of their habitat. The Otago skink is heavy-bodied, and prefers to live on rock tors in sheltered gullies or streamsides. The grand skink is slim and prefers to live on tors on ridge tops. The ecology of the skinks is still being understood and research is underway. For skinks, they appear to be particularly well adapted to the harsh winter conditions of Central Otago. They shelter in deep crevices in the schist tors and emerge to bask and feed when the sun is shining, even if there is snow and ice on the ground. The principal factors in their decline are habitat loss and predation. They are thought to need intact tussock grassland-shrubland between tors for feeding and dispersal cover.
"These animals do not just need habitat protection. They need active management and research, including predator control. In an intensive period of trapping my department has taken over 60 wild cats and a number of ferrets out of the Macraes habitat in a three month period over the winter. Gut samples show that many of the cats had been feeding on lizards, mainly common skinks which are abundant in this centre of lizard biodiversity."
Dr Smith also paid tribute to the land-owners involved in the protection deal. "I am told that Keith and Margaret Philip have strongly supported the department's work over the period that the land swap negotiations have taken place. Good relations between my department and their neighbours will continue to be important, as the skink habitat is an island of tussock grassland in a sea of developed farmland."