Beachfront home and new te reo name for rare skink

A 1.3 hectare coastal property on the West Coast, north of Hokitika, has been purchased to secure the future of the endangered Chesterfield skink.

These threatened lizards have also been given the te reo name 'Kapitia skink' by local iwi. The name references the local area and a nearby stream.

The skink population numbers approximately 200 individuals. Currently, about 60 are housed at Auckland Zoo after the 2018 Cyclone Fehi destroyed almost half of the 1 ha of habitat where the main part of the population was managed. Because of the skink population's small size and vulnerability, the species has a threat rating of 'nationally critical'.

Nicole Kunzmann, Hokitika District Operations Manager says, "These skinks have an incredibly small known habitat area along a 2 km stretch of the coast and we have conducted significant searches to confirm this.

"With the beach adjacent to road reserve being eaten away by coastal erosion, there was a need to secure habitat further inland, which is why the property has been purchased.

"The next step is to build a predator-proof fence to protect the skinks from the multitude of predators that prey on them, including cats, stoats, rats and mice.

"As we don't know their exact habitat preferences, we were super keen to secure land for them within their known habitat range. Our skink experts have located Kapitia skinks on the land we have purchased, which gives us confidence this is a good piece of habitat in which we can protect for them.

"Auckland Zoo is currently running some trials to determine if the skinks like to climb on plants, which is reasonably likely, given their tail is somewhat prehensile - an adaptation for climbing. This will help us decide what sort of plants are most suitable for the new habitat.

"We are delighted to be able to secure the long-term future of this nationally critical species and look forward to welcoming the 'Auckland Zoo skinks' back to their new home once the fence is built and the habitat is ready.

More about the Chesterfield/Kapita skink

The Kapitia skink was discovered in 1992 and described as a separate species (Oligosoma salmo) in 2019. It inhabits a narrow strip of coastline, just north of Hokitika on the South Island's West Coast.

After tidal surges created by Cyclone Fehi destroyed almost half of the skink's habitat and with the threat of coastal erosion increasing, DOC staff and volunteers caught 50 animals over the following months and flew them to Auckland Zoo to establish a captive population.

The captive population is faring well with most of the skinks paired up in outside enclosures. In the two years they have been in captivity, 16 skinks have been born (New Zealand skinks give birth to live young as opposed to laying eggs). However, the captive population will be returned to their natural range on the West Coast once the property has been secured with a predator-proof fence and the habitat inside it is confirmed predator free.

Read a DOC blog about Chesterfield Skinks in the aftermath of 2018 Cyclone Fehi.

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