At the Department of Conservation, we talk about New Zealand’s native species all day, every day.
The go-to icebreaker for introductions at DOC is “what’s your favourite species?”. Whenever this question gets asked of people who aren’t heavily involved in conservation, the ‘frequent flier’ answers are kiwi, takahē, wētā, kākāpō and kererū.
It’s perhaps the only time some of these species have ever been accused of flight.
But what about nudibranch, the soft-bodied sea slug?
Those little critters are fascinating. Give them a Google sometime, their colours alone are worthy of a mention.
And what about peripatus, the velvet worm? Or Powelliphanta, the giant snail?
Nobody ever says their favourite species is Powelliphanta!
But that’s the thing. Nobody ever says it.
Powelliphanta is a difficult word to pronounce. As is nudibranch and peripatus. Is the reason no one ever declares these things to be their favourite species because no one is confident saying their names aloud?
Have poor Powelliphanta missed out on being discussed by the public all this time because of their incredibly twisty name? If so, that’s a crying shame, as they make up a very valuable part of New Zealand’s precious biodiversity.
New Zealand is facing a biodiversity crisis. More than 4000 of our native plants and wildlife are threatened or at risk of extinction. The more we can get people talking about our unique biodiversity, the better.
We decided to get people talking about Powelliphanta and some of other, oft-over-looked species, kept out of public discussion by their hard to say names.
One sunny day, a we took a camera out around Wellington and asked people if they would be keen to say a few fun words for a video to go on DOC’s social media.
We had a surprising number of takers – and some people who didn’t want a bar of it, but of course this wasn’t mandatory, so we bid those people a polite adieu and only filmed those who were keen to take part.
A few of our participants had heard of the species we were asking them to pronounce, and a few hadn’t. In most cases, we ended up have a great chat about what these things were.
We then pulled in DOC comms expert Herb to tell us a bit about these little-known species.
Providing phonetic translations was considered but quickly abandoned, as our core interest wasn’t in how people were pronouncing things – it was in if they were saying them at all.
The resulting video is a bit of fun, pulled together with the happy knowledge that getting these species names “correct” is not important – what matters is that people are saying them and thinking about our precious biodiversity.
We hope you enjoy watching it; we certainly enjoyed making it.
Thanks very much to our wonderful participants.
Thanks for the article, learn something new every day!
In 1986 I was part of a team of Girl Guide leaders that ran a National Jamboree at Levin. About 4000 girls and Leaders attended. Our theme was the Powelliphanta as it was rare, beautiful and occurred in the Horowhenua. Hopefully some of the attendees have remembered this.