Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Whole population of Chalky Island skink lives on just 50 x 50 metre area

Rare lizards on Chalky Island
The Chalky Island or Te Kakahu skink (Oligosoma teKakahu) is a small brown speckled skink so far known only in a small 50 x 50 m area on the predator-free Chalky Island in Chalky Inlet.

The Te Kakahu skink is currently classified as 'nationally critical' because it is only known to be at one location. It could take just one natural event, such as an earthquake or a single introduced predator, to wipe out the entire population. To ensure the survival of this species, we need to estimate numbers and monitor changes over time to assess whether the population can sustain translocation to other suitable habitats.

In February, New Zealand department of Conservation (DOC) rangers Erina Loe and Hannah Edmonds spent 3 days trapping the skinks on the island using small wire traps baited with canned pear. Each skink is aged, sexed, measured and given an individual number. A total of 160 individual skinks were captured.

These results, coupled with sightings of more skinks in the area, indicate a relatively large population in a small area. There is also more potential habitat above cliffs nearby that were not surveyed.

The next step in the recovery of the Te Kakahu skink is to identify suitable habitat on other predator-free islands and survey them for the presence of any lizards. We may find new populations of Te Kakahu skinks or even other lizard species, or ultimately a suitable habitat to translocate Te Kakahu skinks to, ensuring the survival of these special creatures.

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