Archives For Geckos

The Cook Strait striped gecko is one of the rarest New Zealand lizards. It is found on Stephens Island in the Cook Strait and on Maud Island in Pelorus Sound.

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By Rod Hitchmough

Tony Whitaker passed away in February 2014. He was a herpetologist (studied reptiles and amphibians); a passionate advocate for conservation of, and research on, lizards; and a great friend of the Department. 

Tony providing a temporary perch for the largest living gecko species in the world (Rhacodactylus leachianus from New Caledonia). Photo: Marieke Lettink.

Tony providing a temporary perch for the largest living gecko species in the world (Rhacodactylus leachianus from New Caledonia)

Tony worked for Ecology Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in the 1960s and 1970s and, since then, had done contract research, writing and biological surveys.

When Tony started his work, he and Joan Robb of the University of Auckland were the only ones working on lizard ecology and taxonomy in New Zealand.

In his Ecology Division days Tony made numerous discoveries and had many insights which were revolutionary at the time but are now accepted as common knowledge.

Tony and DOC Science Advisor James Reardon photographing the rare Rangitata skink in its scree habitat. Photo: Marieke Lettink.

Tony and DOC Science Advisor James Reardon in their element photographing the rare Rangitata skink in its scree habitat. This species was discovered by Tony in 2004

He was the first to see that lizard faunas were extremely different on islands with and without kiore (Pacific rats). Kiore had been previously regarded as “harmless vegetarians” (apparently no one had wondered whether they had any impact on plants, which we now know they do).

He was the first to use baited pitfall traps for lizards and also the first to survey/monitor nocturnal species by locating their eye-shine using a head-torch and binoculars. He was the first to suggest that lizards might be important pollinators and seed dispersers for some plants, and that pale-coloured small berries carried in the centre of dense divaricating shrubs would be difficult for birds, but very easy for lizards to access.

Black-eyed gecko. Photo: Dave Timmerman-Vaughan.

Black-eyed gecko

He carried out a series of island surveys which greatly improved our understanding of the distribution and conservation status of many species, and discovered many new populations of uncommon species and some new species.

His collections from those trips and other survey trips on the mainland are now a very important component of the Te Papa lizard collection. He also named and wrote the formal description for the black-eyed gecko.

With Bruce Thomas, he prepared and published the first Bibliography of New Zealand lizards, an invaluable research resource which includes even the most obscure publications.

Tony also began the systematic recording of reptile and amphibian distribution records, leading to the development of the current Herpetofauna database, now one of the best sets of distribution data for any group of animals or plants in New Zealand.

Tony’s contribution to lizard conservation was huge. He was a member of every lizard-related recovery group DOC has had, including the Lizard Technical Advisory Group.He was a member of the reptile expert panel for all four assessments of lizard status which have been carried out using the New Zealand Threat Classification System, and earlier contributed to the Molloy and Davis species conservation priority listings.

He prepared lizard action plans and identification guides for many conservancies, and carried out many surveys and research contracts.

In the last few years he was extremely involved with biosecurity issues and had a Ministry for Primary Industries contract to identify all reptiles and amphibians intercepted at the border. Tony and his wife Viv also spent a lot of time in New Caledonia, carrying out surveys of areas proposed for mining. In the process he was also involved in the discovery and naming of many new species of skinks and geckos there.

Tony was a valued personal friend and mentor for many at DOC. As well as knowing a huge amount about lizards and always being willing to share his time and expertise, he was a warm, kind, interested, very humorous, non-judgemental friend. We will miss him enormously.

New Zealand’s largest lizard, and one of the world’s largest geckos, moved onto Motuihe Island this week.

Duvaucel's gecko. Photo: Dick Veitch.

Duvaucel’s gecko

100 Duvaucel’s geckos joined other threatened wildlife already on Motuihe, as part of an ecological restoration programme being implemented by the Motuihe Trust with the support of Iwi and the Department of Conservation.

Geckos play an important role in ecosystems as predator and prey, as well as dispersers of seeds and pollinating plants.

Duvaucel’s geckos are nationally “At Risk” and by reintroducing these animals to Motuihe, the long-term survival of Duvaucel’s gecko will be further assured.


Learn more

Threatened geckos to find sanctuary on Motuihe Island – Media release

New Zealand geckos

Visit Motuihe Recreation Reserve

By DOC Ranger, Kurt Shanks

Today, we’re putting the spotlight on recent innovative activity on Motuihe Island — a conservation jewel in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Ranger John Mills plays a vital role in everything from glamping to gecko translocations and sponsored road repairs.

Donation benefits conservation

A $2,000 donation of roading materials and labour from Fulton Hogan provided an unexpected boost to conservation efforts on Motuihe.

Paul Hart (left) from Fulton Hogan and DOC’s Motuihe  Ranger John Mills, on the road before repairs were  carried out.

Paul Hart (left) from Fulton Hogan and DOC’s Motuihe
Ranger John Mills, on the road before repairs were
carried out

A donated truck load of black top roading mix has enabled DOC to make the necessary repairs to the deteriorating road surface, with spin-off conservation benefits.

DOC Ranger on the island, John Mills, says the donated materials and labour allow DOC and its partner—the Motuihe Island Restoration Trust—to divert more budget and effort to projects with direct conservation benefits.

The island is pest free, with continued effort by DOC and the Trust to protect endangered native species like the New Zealand dotterelsaddlebackkākārikikiwishore skinksbellbirds and tuatara.

Crossing the ditch for Motuihe glamping

John Mills says there is also increasing interest from the corporate sector to visit the island for retreats, conservation education and team building.

    The lounge retreat, part of the glamping site on Motuihe Island


The lounge retreat, part of the glamping site on Motuihe Island

In early November the island hosted 60 high-achievers from Fuji Xerox Australia for an overnight ‘glamping’ experience.

The overnighter was organised by wildernest.co.nz who booked out camp sites on the island and ensured guests’ meals were fully catered by chefs.

The spectacular glamping site on Motuihe Island.

The spectacular glamping site on Motuihe Island

The Fuji Xerox staff helped DOC and the Trust by carrying out a variety of conservation-orientated volunteer work, and the island was returned to its original condition immediately prior to the guests’ departure, with all rubbish and temporary facilities removed by barge.

Trifecta of gecko translocations—two down, one to go!

Three species of gecko are being translocated to Motuihe over the summer months to help restore ecological links and values to the island.

Releasing geckos

Releasing geckos

The gecko programme is part of the island’s restoration plan jointly developed by DOC and the Trust, and follows several translocations of rare birds and tuatara.

Geckos were present on the island prior to farming and the arrival of pest animals.

Late last year, 60 common geckos arrived from Otata Island (Noises) to Motuihe on a day which attracted more than 100 volunteers and conservationists, including iwi, the Trust, DOC and community groups.

60 common geckos arrived from Otata Island, which attracted more than 100 volunteers and conservationists

60 common geckos arrived from Otata Island, which attracted more than 100 volunteers and conservationists

In January 100 Duvaucel’s geckos arrived from Stanley Island (in the Mercury Islands), and in early March 100 Pacific geckos will be translocated from Tarakihi (Shag Island).

Visit Motuihe

With clear waters, sheltered anchorages, visitor facilities and community conservation efforts, the island is particularly popular with summer visitors.

You can plan your own visit to Motuihe on the DOC website.

Wendy Jackson provides policy, strategy, and implementation advice for DOC on a number of international conventions relating to wildlife. She attended the recent conference in Thailand on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and reports back.

What do New Zealand green geckos, hammerhead sharks, and Madagascar ebony have in common? Aside from being important to ecosystem functioning and holding cultural value, these species were also recently afforded stronger protection in international law through their listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

A green gecko, hammerhead shark and Madagascar ebony.

Green geckos, hammerhead sharks and Madagascar ebony were considered at the recent CITES conference

The increased protection for New Zealand green geckos (Naultinus spp.) is particularly significant for New Zealand. Over the past few years, these species have been subject to high levels of poaching and smuggling, which have contributed to population declines.

North Cape green gecko.

North Cape green gecko

The proposal for additional protection was submitted to the other 177 CITES member countries last year, and was adopted by consensus last week at a CITES meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand.

These additional protections increase the ability of authorities (in New Zealand and overseas) to conduct enquiries, investigate illegal activities and makes seizures. It will also mean harsher penalties under international law for people found to be illegally trading in geckos. This is a fantastic outcome for New Zealand and especially for our geckos!

Delegates at the recent Conference of the Parties to CITES.

The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES

More information about the greater protection afforded to the New Zealand Green Gecko can be found on the DOC website.

A full summary of the CITES conference is also available.