Our ectotherm keepers were recently in the West Coast surveying for this beautiful lizard!

Endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand, this lizard was discovered in 2020 during surveys for the broad-cheeked gecko, and was subsequently determined to be a new species in 2022.

Prior to this, it was thought to be the Newman’s skink but DNA analysis confirmed there is a 5% genetic difference between the two species. This might not sound like a lot - but in comparison the genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is just 1.5%!

The Department of Conservation (DOC) in partnership with Ngāti Māhaki are establishing a monitoring programme to gain insight into their habitat use, population size and distribution. So far, just 15 individuals have been identified and recorded.  

Ectotherm keepers Sonja and Julie visit the West Coast annually to survey for the Alborn skink – a habitat just three hours away from where the Ōkārito skink is found. Both species are part of the same speckled skink cryptic species complex – this also includes the rare cobble skink that we care for in a special facility at the Zoo.

We jumped at the opportunity to lend our handling skills and experience with Alborn skinks to the project and assist our conservation partners. The skinks live in pākihi wetland (a unique habitat found in this part of the South Island) and nearby lowland forest. During this trip, our team assisted with placing transects (study lines placed at intervals across an area) and ACOs (Artificial Cover Objects) to see if more skinks could be located.

All in all our team spent 20 days in the field across the two projects and we’re hoping to continue to support the Ōkārito skink project in coming years!