Endangered skinks count

An annual monitoring programme to assess how well two species of critically endangered lizards are recovering from the brink of extinction in East Otago is nearly half done.

Both grand and Otago skinks, which are endemic to Otago, are listed as critically endangered in New Zealand and a Department of Conservation (Doc) monitoring programme now under way at Macraes Flat will determine whether there has been a rise in population numbers.

Doc conservation services senior biodiversity ranger Gavin Udy said Doc staff were ''right in the middle'' of the annual count, which was taking place over five weeks before Christmas and then five weeks in the New Year.

Monitoring would take place within two predator-proof fences, put up about six years ago, as well as outside the two 22ha and 11ha protection zones, in conjunction with simultaneous predator-trapping.

Mr Udy said it was too early to say whether the skinks' population might have increased.

Estimates from last year's count would be released once the grand and Otago skink 2012-13 draft annual report was finalised, he said.

When the skink recovery programme began, both lizard species were expected to be extinct in 30 to 40 years.

Although in 2005 there were just 37 Otago skinks and 32 grand skinks, conservation efforts had since led to a population growth of about 30% every year.

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz

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