Today, Aotea Great Barrier is among a few small areas of New Zealand with a high diversity of native lizards. Despite losing at least three species and the tuatara, the island is still home to an impressive 13 native lizard species (five gecko and eight skink). Some of these species are extinct on the mainland, and for others, Aotea Great Barrier is one of only a handful of places on the planet where they still exist. And their future is not secure. Ongoing predation from cats, pigs and rodents (ship rats, kiore, and mice) puts constant pressure on remaining populations, and over 85% of the island’s species are listed in the New Zealand Threatened Species classification.
The mysterious “Teeth of the Taniwha” was the stuff of myth and legends from when it was first described in 1906 until the 1970s. Gradually, with rare sightings, their presence on Great Barrier Island was confirmed along with a random two individuals on Little Barrier Island. Only a few years ago it was claimed that “only 300 sightings have ever been reported” but these days due to an intensive on-going study funded by the Department of Conservation and great enthusiasm from locals, sightings are regular.
The largest one ever found was by Halema Jamieson when studying their habits in Glenfern Sanctuary – it was 340mm long making it the New Zealand’s longest native lizard!