The reptile fauna of New Zealand consists of one endemic order, tuatara; at least 100 species of lizards (geckos – Diplodactylidae; skinks – Scincidae); invasive rainbow skinks; two migrant and three vagrant species of sea turtles; and one resident and three vagrant species of sea snake. The primary threat to the persistence of populations of New Zealand reptiles is predation by introduced mammals. The largest species of each lizard family are extinct, and surviving large-bodied and nocturnal lizards and tuatara are restricted to offshore islands free of introduced mammals or managed in mammal-proof enclosures on the mainland. Habitat loss, particularly through development initiatives, also threatens reptiles, as do poaching, lack of knowledge on potential diseases, climate change and potentially introduced reptiles as predators, competitors and hosts of new diseases. Research effort and targeted field surveys have resulted in taxonomic revisions, discoveries of new species, increased data availability on some populations, and changes in conservation management practices resulting in an evolving picture for species numbers and the threat status of New Zealand reptiles.
Introducing New Zealand reptiles
The reptile fauna of New Zealand consists of the endemic terrestrial tuatara and lizards, an invasive lizard, migrant sea turtles, a resident sea snake, and other occasional vagrant sea turtles and sea snakes (Gill & Whitaker, 1996; Jewell, 2008; Chapple et al., 2009a; Hitchmough et al., 2010). A review of the conservation efforts for New Zealand reptiles was published in 2001 (Towns et al., 2001). Since that time considerable research effort and targeted field surveys have resulted in taxonomic revisions, discoveries of new species, increased data availability on some populations, and changes in conservation management practices (Chapple et al., 2009b; Hitchmough et al., 2010; Nielsen et al., 2011). We provide an update on the conservation status of New Zealand reptiles and their conservation management and future priorities and present case studies that demonstrate conservation successes and challenges.