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A major step in protecting the genetic diversity of a critically endangered western Otago skink has been taken with the transfer of five skinks to a specialist wildlife park in Christchurch.
The juvenile skinks are the first from the population of 40 at Awa Nohoaka Conservation Area, near Lake Hawea, to be transferred to captivity.
Department of Conservation ranger Lesley Judd said this group's genetic signature differed from that of the larger eastern Otago population at Macraes Flat, and they were living in an unprotected area vulnerable to predators such as stoats, rats and mice.
"The transfer is a major step towards protecting the genetic diversity of this vulnerable species."
Their new home is at Peacock Springs Wildlife Park, a predator-proof breeding facility which is also home to tuatara, black stilts and orange-fronted parakeets.
The Lady Diana Isaac Wildlife Trust had purpose-built a large predator-proof enclosure containing smaller caged areas furnished with rock, vegetation and heated areas for the skinks.
Doc hoped to bring up to 12 skinks into captivity as part of a larger breeding programme to protect the threatened species, she said.