Waipā skinks released to safe space after being rescued from construction site

Fourteen copper skinks (mokomoko) have been released into a pest-free sanctuary near Ōhaupō. Photo / Provided

Fourteen copper skinks (mokomoko) were rescued from a housing development site in Te Awamutu and released into a safe, pest-free sanctuary in Rotopiko near Ōhaupō.

National Wetland Trust chief executive Karen Denyer, who was present at the release, said that although copper skinks had been recorded at the Rotopiko site since 2013, this was the first known release of a endangered animal in the reserve.

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“Detections of copper skinks have increased since 2013 when we got rid of the rats, and in the summer of 2021 we had the most of them in our tunnels, at least one in four tunnels. They leave very distinctive tracks , like tiny little hands and a trail left by their tails.”

Waipā District Council biodiversity planner Hilary Webb said the construction earthworks that are part of the Te Awamutu development would have impacted copper skinks which are protected under the Wildlife Act. fauna, so they had to be moved.

“Although we would prefer not to destroy the habitat, relocating the skinks was a way to balance development with protecting a species listed as ‘Endangered – Declining’.

“In this case, relocation was appropriate due to the low ecological values ​​of the Frontier Road site, the transferability of the skinks, and the availability of a suitable site to receive them.”

Ecology New Zealand lizard expert Jennifer Gollin, who was responsible for the capture and safe release of the first skink, says the species generally had a short lifespan in the wild due to predators like rats and cats, but inside the pest fence it could live for many years.

Stephen Cox (obscured), cameraman Jim Broom, Ngāti Apakura reps Bill Harris and Hazel Wander, Peter van Loon and lizard expert Jennifer Gollin during the skink release.  Photo / Provided
Stephen Cox (obscured), cameraman Jim Broom, Ngāti Apakura reps Bill Harris and Hazel Wander, Peter van Loon and lizard expert Jennifer Gollin during the skink release. Photo / Provided

The first rescued skink was welcomed to the site by Ngāti Apakura representatives, Hazel Wander and Bill Harris, with a waiata announcing “kua tae mai nei te mokomoko”: The skink has arrived.

The Skink Welcoming Committee also included volunteers from Rotary Te Awamutu and the Rotopiko Weed Free Friday (WFF) group.

Both groups have worked with the National Wetland Trust to improve habitat for native wildlife. Rotary volunteers have built wooden shelters for the released skinks, while the WFF group regularly weeds and plants native sedges and shrubs.

If any further skinks are discovered during the construction period, it is expected that they will be released onto the site as they are discovered.