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One visitor to the Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery yesterday was around before the dinosaurs and another was on the menu of feral cats.
Those were among the tidbits learned by more than 100 children who attended the school holiday programme at the museum. The session focused on endangered species and the children were able to touch a tuatara, Otago skinks and a gecko. Southland Museum tuatara curator Lindsay Hazley brought Gunther the tuatara from Invercargill for a visit and the children were impressed to learn tuataras were around before dinosaurs. Mr Hazley outlined the success of the tuatara breeding programme and said he was now able to supply zoos with the reptiles.
The Central Stories Museum in Alexandra is upgrading its skink enclosure and expects to have at least two Otago skinks back in residence by the end of this month. The display is a joint venture with the Central Otago Ecological Trust, which aims to boost the population of the critically threatened lizards.
''We're hoping to expand the display and move it out to the retail area of the museum, so it will receive some natural light, which will be beneficial for the skinks,'' museum project manager Rachel Checketts said. Ecological trust trustee Grant Norbury said the venture was good for both the museum and the trust.
''It's a good collaboration for both. It lifts the profile of these highly endangered species and diversifies the displays at the museum.''
The trust set up a pest-free dryland sanctuary near Alexandra several years ago and is gradually introducing fauna that has been lost from the Alexandra basin, like the Otago skink.
Mr Norbury told the children that stoats, ferrets, weasels and feral cats were among the main predators of skinks in the wild.
''There's not many skinks left, because we've changed their habitat by modifying the land, and because of the predators, like feral cats. One piece of cat poo I examined contained 32 lizards - that's how many they eat,'' he said. The skink breeding programme at the sanctuary was going well, apart from a ''glitch'' when mice found their way through the ''predator-proof'' fencing, Mr Norbury said. Twelve skinks had been released initially more than a year ago and a further 16 were added late last year.
''After the mice found their way into the cage, the population dropped by about four skinks.''
The mice had now been removed and the programme was back on track. The trust hoped to raise funds to expand the .3ha sanctuary.
Central Stories has three more holiday sessions planned. Life in Ancient Greece is the theme on Tuesday; Life in the Victorian Era is set for next Thursday; and Life in Samurai Warrior Japan is the theme on Tuesday, January 22. Each session runs from 10am to 2.30pm and children must be registered to attend.