Wainuiomata man leads the fight to save the endangered Whitaker skink
In terms of the threat of extinction, the Whitaker skink is almost in a class of its own. There are only 50 in captivity and none have been caught at their last known location in Pukerua Bay since 2010.
Keall, who works with DoC breeding endangered native reptiles, has 36 on his property in Wainuiomata, including an original breeding male now aged at least 45. The remaining 14 are with another breeder.
It's lucky there are any left.
The original male, which he calls 02, was owned by a breeder who died. DoC had a pair which it accidentally killed but luckily they had produced two females.
Keall took the two sisters and began a breeding programme with 02.
In 2002, DoC began trapping on the tiny site in Pukerua Bay where the Whitaker was once common. In the best year they caught 10 and with careful breeding, the population has increased to 50.
Keall no longer uses 02 for breeding and faces many difficulties increasing the population. Not only are they slow to mature sexually, they only breed every two years and produce, at best, four offspring.
The aim is to create a new colony in a predator-free environment. That will require 40 adults and he faces a long slow process.
As with many other endangered plants and animals, DoC has limited funding and it is hard to get the public enthusiastic about a lizard that only comes out at night and looks the same as many other skinks.
That is why Keall supports the Endangered Species Foundation, launched last week to raise money and fight for some of the less popular species.
The Foundation aims to create a $30 million endowment fund for conservation projects such as saving the Whitaker skink.
Chairman Kerry Prendergast says
there are more than 4000 species endangered in New Zealand, and only 250 of them are currently in conservation programmes.
"There's a great need for this organisation, if New Zealand is to protect its most vulnerable indigenous species and habitats from extinction."
When Keall can build a large enough population to establish a wild colony, he will face one last hurdle.
For a variety of reasons, there are no suitable sites in the Wellington region that are pest free or do not have other more aggressive skinks that would wipe out the Whitaker.
- Hutt News