Lizards fit­ted with ra­dio back­packs

The Horowhenua Mail - - FRONT PAGE - VIR­GINIA FAL­LON

For­get lounge lizards; this lot are packed and ready to travel.

Nine na­tive rep­tiles sport­ing tiny back­packs have been re­leased on Mana Is­land, near Porirua, af­ter be­ing moved from their home en­vi­ron­ment.

The nga­here geckos have been fit­ted with ra­dio trans­mit­ters weigh­ing 0.7gms in a bid to shed light on just how far they jour­ney when trans­ferred to new homes.

Part of a three-year translo­ca­tion pro­gramme from a Welling­ton quarry, the lizards, will help sci­en­tists de­ter­mine what sort of re­lease method worked best when it came to set­tling into a new en­vi­ron­ment.

It was a del­i­cate process tap­ing the trans­mit­ters to the backs of the tiny crea­tures, De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion sci­ence ad­vi­sor Jo Monks said.

‘‘We need to work quickly to avoid stress but also take time to en­sure the fit is right, so it won’t im­pede the an­i­mal’s move­ments.’’

The new ar­rivals will be re­leased along­side an­other nine lizards pre­vi­ously trans­ferred and housed on the is­land in a large open pen – a method termed a ‘soft-re­lease’.

Monks said re­search on other species showed that pre­vi­ously penned an­i­mals don’t travel far once the pen is re­moved com­pared to new ar­rivals which could dis­perse widely.

‘‘Ide­ally we want them to stick to­gether. Oth­er­wise, some in­di­vid­u­als may dis­perse too far and be un­able to find each other again and con­tribute to a breed­ing pop­u­la­tion.’’

So far, a soft re­lease had proved to be a much more suc­cess­ful strat­egy for species like jew­elled geckos, and the Mana Is­land trial would show whether it would be use­ful for other na­tive rep­tiles, she said.

A to­tal of 49 nga­here geckos had been trans­ferred to the pest- free is­land as part of a three-year project to re­home them from Welling­ton’s Bel­mont Quarry, be­ing de­vel­oped by Fletcher Build­ing.

New Zealand has more than 110 species of geckos and skinks – al­most half of which are threat­ened – and Mana Is­land boasts eleven species of na­tive lizards.

Classed as at at-risk species, the nga­here geckos are found in older forests but are rarely seen as they spend the ma­jor­ity of their lives in the canopy.

The nga­here geckos have had tiny ra­dio trans­mit­ters taped to their backs, left, so they can be mon­i­tored.

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