Trapper happens on rare striped skink at Whinray

The striped stink. Picture supplied.

Striped skink have been discovered for the first time in the Gisborne region.

Described by the Department of Conservation as a nationally threatened species, the lizard is included in a national recovery plan.

The first striped skinks were discovered in this district in the Whinray Reserve three weeks ago by project trapper Robyn De Lahaye.

Whinray Eco Trust trustee Steve Sawyer, of Ecoworks, says the skink was sitting on a possum trap cover in a tree and the trapper managed to snap some photos.

“I sent Robyn’s photos to New Zealand lizard experts, who confirmed it is the striped skink (Oligisoma striatum).”

Mr Sawyer says there appears to have been a small remnant population hanging on inside Whinray Reserve at Motu since the first introduction of Pacific rats and subsequently stoats, cats, ship rats and Norway rats. The lizards are vulnerable to all these predators.

The animal has previously been recorded only in Taranaki, Rotorua and Great Barrier Island.

“We have now been running intensive multi-species pest control in Whinray for 20 years to protect brown kiwi, bats, rifleman birds, native frogs and at least 13 other endemic species,” said Mr Sawyer.

“Unknown to us, a few striped skink were there living in the tree canopy and it is likely the population is increasing now, which has allowed us to observe it for the first time.”

Although the Whinray is a DoC Scenic Reserve, the Whinray Eco Trust is a private group of local Gisborne residents who raise the funding and manage the species and pest management in the area.

Population monitoring of the striped skink will start.

“Combined with the pest control work, we should see an increase in population levels over coming years,” Mr Sawyer said.

The best practice and the most up-to-date pest control and survey tools were used to protect this site, he said.

“Hochstetter’s frogs and koaro have also been identified recently in the Whinray Reserve and it is possible that we could find additional species such as native land snails, mistletoe, tusked weta and other large gecko species,” he said.

It was hoped that further survey work would find more of these “cryptic species”, which were benefiting from pest trapping.

“These are all species that make New Zealand incredibly unique,” he said.

“Many people say what is the point in protecting a lizard, but all of these species perform important roles in our indigenous forest by pollinating trees such as northern rata, providing food supplies, distributing seed and providing unique ecosystem services found only in New Zealand.”

Many of the world’s medicines and drugs also came from rare plants and animals, “so protecting them also potentially protects us”, Mr Sawyer said.

The striped skink lives in podocarp-hardwood forest and climbs into the tree canopy 15 to 21 metres high, living in large epiphytes that grow high up in the totara, kahikatea forest.

Striped skink have been discovered for the first time in the Gisborne region.

Described by the Department of Conservation as a nationally threatened species, the lizard is included in a national recovery plan.

The first striped skinks were discovered in this district in the Whinray Reserve three weeks ago by project trapper Robyn De Lahaye.

Whinray Eco Trust trustee Steve Sawyer, of Ecoworks, says the skink was sitting on a possum trap cover in a tree and the trapper managed to snap some photos.

“I sent Robyn’s photos to New Zealand lizard experts, who confirmed it is the striped skink (Oligisoma striatum).”

Mr Sawyer says there appears to have been a small remnant population hanging on inside Whinray Reserve at Motu since the first introduction of Pacific rats and subsequently stoats, cats, ship rats and Norway rats. The lizards are vulnerable to all these predators.

The animal has previously been recorded only in Taranaki, Rotorua and Great Barrier Island.

“We have now been running intensive multi-species pest control in Whinray for 20 years to protect brown kiwi, bats, rifleman birds, native frogs and at least 13 other endemic species,” said Mr Sawyer.

“Unknown to us, a few striped skink were there living in the tree canopy and it is likely the population is increasing now, which has allowed us to observe it for the first time.”

Although the Whinray is a DoC Scenic Reserve, the Whinray Eco Trust is a private group of local Gisborne residents who raise the funding and manage the species and pest management in the area.

Population monitoring of the striped skink will start.

“Combined with the pest control work, we should see an increase in population levels over coming years,” Mr Sawyer said.

The best practice and the most up-to-date pest control and survey tools were used to protect this site, he said.

“Hochstetter’s frogs and koaro have also been identified recently in the Whinray Reserve and it is possible that we could find additional species such as native land snails, mistletoe, tusked weta and other large gecko species,” he said.

It was hoped that further survey work would find more of these “cryptic species”, which were benefiting from pest trapping.

“These are all species that make New Zealand incredibly unique,” he said.

“Many people say what is the point in protecting a lizard, but all of these species perform important roles in our indigenous forest by pollinating trees such as northern rata, providing food supplies, distributing seed and providing unique ecosystem services found only in New Zealand.”

Many of the world’s medicines and drugs also came from rare plants and animals, “so protecting them also potentially protects us”, Mr Sawyer said.

The striped skink lives in podocarp-hardwood forest and climbs into the tree canopy 15 to 21 metres high, living in large epiphytes that grow high up in the totara, kahikatea forest.

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