It’s World Wildlife Day – a day to celebrate the incredible wildlife and plants that enhance our lives and the planet.

The theme this year is 'Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation' and we have a special partnership to share that has saved a rare and endemic New Zealand lizard from near extinction!

In January 2018 the already vulnerable Kapitia (formerly known as Chesterfield) skink population was in grave danger. With Cyclone Fehi rapidly approaching the skinks only known home – a tiny strip of coastal scrub north of Hokitika – our conservation partners the Department of Conservation (DOC) rescued 50 of these unique skinks and brought them to Auckland Zoo for safekeeping.

The Zoo’s ectotherm experts have been caring for these skinks – and their zoo-born offspring – in dedicated behind the scenes facilities and have been working with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to plan and implement the next stage of the skink’s recovery.

DOC created a dedicated predator-free fenced reserve for these skinks, a little inland from their last remaining stronghold, so they can be protected from mammal predators but also coastal erosion. Guided by observations of the skinks at the Zoo, the reserve will be augmented with native plants to provide the complex habitat these lizards require and favoured native fruits as food.

Over the last couple of years skinks from the Zoo have been gradually returned and released in the reserve where they have joined a small number already living within the safety of the fence. The release of the very last zoo skinks, juveniles born in February 2022, is planned for April 2023.

Auckland Zoo’s head of animal care and conservation, Richard, says, “it’s very exciting and incredibly rewarding for us to be reaching this milestone in the Kapitia skink’s recovery, and so comparatively quickly. In just five short years, the blink of an eye in conservation terms, we have through the DOC and zoo partnership, identified and confirmed the threat to an endemic species; secured, maintained and grown an insurance population at the zoo; built a dedicated reserve to protect them from predators; and seen them returned to the wild where, we hope, they will thrive and continue to grow in numbers. I really hope this conservation success serves as inspiration for lizard conservation across Aotearoa, as most of our more than 120 species (yes that’s right, New Zealand is really a land of lizards) are threatened and declining, many critically so, but the Kapitia skink story has a happy ending and is truly testament to the idiom ‘where there’s a will there’s a way!’”