For those of you who read my posts regularly, you will perhaps have noted how over time I have gained something of an interest in the conservation efforts which occur in New Zealand on an ongoing basis. It is interesting to note how man has noted the impact he has caused on native wildlife since arriving here and is taking steps to try to avert the devastation…would that man the world over would try to have similar thoughts and take similar actions although perhaps it is often too late.
On the edge of Wellington lies the pest-free “island” of Zealandia. The first mainland attempt to give native plant and animal species a chance to live in peace without the introduced threat of rats, stoats, possums etc. It truly gives a window into what NZ could be (and indeed once was) like…albeit it is only 20 years old and this is a long term project.
Similar to Sanctuary Mountain, near Hamilton (see previous post), you can see Kaka here, Tui, Tuatara, Robin…and also…Saddleback, Stitchbird, Bellbird, Shag, Kakariki (parakeets), Takahe and much more. It is built on a fault line which used to be the site of an old reservoir until someone noted that said water could flood Wellington in the event of an earthquake. When looking at these pictures it is worth bearing in mind some context…these birds are quite fearless…I was stood within touching distance of Kaka (native parrots), I was playing with a Robin in the leaf litter…it even sat on my shoe…and perhaps more sad…I was told that the world population of Takahe is around 250 so the two in the photo below (Puffin and T2 are their names) are just under 1% of the entire species. These birds eat grass and I was struggling to think of another bird that does likewise. Here is hoping that their numbers can recover!
Most of the birds are free to come and go as they please and are starting to spread out beyond the park. If you are ever in Wellington, give them your support! It really is a jewel in the conservation crown…click here to see their website.
There is a little known resident of New Zealand that has its own root on the Tree of Life. It is a unique species.
It is a creature which may be the longest lived creature on Earth. One which has lived for millions of years (since the Dinosaur age) and, like the coelacanth, is termed a living fossil. This creature is the Tuatara.
It is a reptile which is endemic to New Zealand. It can live for a reputed 200 years. With so much time on your hands…why do anything quickly?
They reach sexual maturity at 10-20 years old and there is a Tuatara which is actively breeding at well past its centenary here today. They are able to reduce their heart rate in extremes of temperature to ensure their survival and temperature determines the sex of the offspring so climate change could be disastrous.
The final fact which is truly remarkable though is that they are born with a fully-functioning third eye in the top of their heads – perhaps to mitigate against predation. Amazing.
You won’t be surprised to learn that like so many of New Zealand’s native wildlife, Tuatara are under threat from introduced mammalian predators like stoats and rats. Thankfully, conservation work is giving them hope and there is recent evidence of Tuatara hatching outside captivity in special pest-controlled wildlife sanctuaries! Fantastic!
Here is a photo of Bruce, from the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown, so you can get an idea of what they look like…the name Tuatara is from Maori meaning “spiny back”…look closely…