The Conservation Issue
New Zealand’s dryland environments contain some of the most transformed, least protected and most threatened native ecosystems and species in New Zealand. Biodiversity loss may be proceeding more rapidly in drylands than elsewhere in New Zealand due to continuing habitat loss, impacts of fragmentation, low levels of legal protection, pastoral impacts, weeds and pests, and intensive land development and subdivision.
One of the special features of Central Otago drylands is the high diversity of native lizards. However, a number of these have disappeared and many others are struggling to survive in remnant populations. The Otago skink is one of the most critically threatened lizards in New Zealand. They used to be abundant across their former range but are now restricted to 8% of that area in two disjunct, relict populations. Otago skinks were recorded in the Alexandra basin in the 1970s but have now disappeared. They are at risk of extinction in the wild within a decade primarily due to introduced predators.
Find out more about the Otago skink »
The Social Issue
This project is the first community-led conservation project of its type in Central Otago. As a community we place great value on our cultural heritage (principally goldmining and high country farming). However, we have some way to go to fully appreciate our dryland natural heritage. In this regard we fall behind New Zealand communities that live in forested and coastal areas where community-led conservation initiatives are increasingly common. The irony is that there are many retired and semi-retired people living in Central Otago with time to spare, yet they have little opportunity to participate in conservation. Part of the problem is low public awareness and appreciation of dryland fauna and flora, the threats they face, and the potential for their recovery. There are also few ecotourism ventures for the general public and overseas visitors in Central Otago.
This is where Otago skinks can play an important social role. Because they are large and charismatic, they act as flagships for educating the community about the special features of dryland ecosystems and how people can help to protect them. We see the Otago skink as an ambassador, an icon and a symbol for our environmental cause. By achieving conservation of Otago skinks, the status of many other species which share its habitat, or are vulnerable to the same threats, may also be improved.
For more information on why the Trust was formed, its vision, who's involved and its community consultations click on the following links: