New Zealand

New Zealand consists of the main North, South, and Stewart islands of New Zealand in the subtropical and temperate zones, along with a number of smaller sub-Antarctic island groups. Geologically it consists of fragments of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, but has been separated from other landmasses for tens of millions of years. Together they comprise the most isolated large landmass in the world, there being no evidence that they were ever connected with either Australia or Antarctica. As a result, many of New Zealand’s plants and animals followed lines of evolution that have made them unique. Indeed, in its virgin state, New Zealand was a sort of vast living museum.

Zoologically speaking, New Zealand is strikingly different from all other terrestrial realms and regions, because it includes no native mammals except for bats and sea lions. There are a few reptiles (most notably the tuataras, lone survivors of an ancient order that disappeared elsewhere a hundred million years ago), along with some primitive amphibians and fishes. But it is the birds that dominate, having replaced terrestrial mammals and filled a wide range of habitats in the process. The most spectacular of these were six genera and nine species of giant flightless moas, the two largest of which reached a height of about 3.6 m with neck outstretched and weighed about 230 kg, thus putting them among the largest birds ever known. They were grazing birds utilizing the grasslands as kangaroos do in Australia and antelopes in Africa. The first humans to reach New Zealand, the Polynesians, arrived sometime between ad 1250 and 1300, bringing with them dogs and rats which would ultimately wipe out a great many species. Sometime prior to the arrival of Europeans a subsequent wave of immigration had already established a distinct Maori culture there. Although the islands still consisted mainly of pristine forests and savanna by this point, the indigenous people had already largely wiped out the large, flightless moas discussed above, having hunted them for food as is shown clearly by many finds made on both the North and South Islands. Historically these birds would have had few or no enemies, a fact which no doubt made them unwary and easy to catch. Their huge eggs must also have been coveted as food and for domestic utensils. Many other species, mostly birds, were also exterminated by the Maori.


Species and subspecies

The New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) has a highly restricted distribution for a marine mammal, being nowadays confined to coastal areas of the southernmost islands of New Zealand and their surrounding waters. Its principal breeding colonies are in the Auckland Islands, with most of the remaining ones on Campbell Island. Small numbers occur on the southern coast of South Island and on Stewart Island. The species was at one time found throughout New Zealand but is now perhaps the world’s rarest sea lion, with a total population of around 10,000.

The northern royal albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) ranges widely across the southern oceans as far north as Peru, but breeds only in the Chatham and Auckland islands and at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula, South Island (the latter being the only albatross colony on a human-inhabited mainland in the Southern Hemisphere).

Hutton’s shearwater (Puffinus huttoni) is a medium-sized seabird that ranges throughout both New Zealand and Australian waters but currently breeds only in two natural colonies within the Seaward Kaikoura Range in north-eastern South Island, with a third (protected and artificial) having been established near the town of Kaikoura itself. Six other natural colonies, in both the Seaward and Inland Kaikoura ranges, have been wiped out in recent decades by introduced pigs and stoats.

The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) breeds on the eastern and south-eastern coasts of South Island, Stewart Island and outliers, the Auckland Islands and the Campbell Island group. It is threatened by disease, invasive predators, and fisheries by-catch.

The New Zealand crested penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) now breeds only along the south-western coast of South Island and on Stewart Island and its outliers. At other times the species disperses widely through the sub-Antarctic islands and occasionally as far as Tasmania and south-eastern coastal Australia. It is threatened mainly by introduced predators such as dogs, cats, rats, and stoats, as well as by human disturbance of its nesting sites.

The New Zealand swan (Cygnus sumnerensis) is an extinct species known only from fossil remains discovered during the nineteenth century on South Island and the Chatham Islands. Two subspecies will be discussed below.

The New Zealand brown teal (Anas chlorotis) was formerly widespread throughout the mainland and offshore islands, but has been severely affected by the loss of swamps, ponds, and forests. It occurred in the Chatham Islands until about 1925, and on Stewart Island until the early 1970s. It has since disappeared from South Island as well, and is now largely restricted to northern North Island. In recent years populations have been reintroduced to Kapiti and Mana Islands and to the Zealandia Sanctuary near Wellington. In 2011 the total population was estimated at 1500–2500.

The Auckland merganser (Mergus australis) at one time occurred on South and Stewart islands, but was already extinct there when Europeans arrived. It disappeared from the Auckland Islands after settlers and their domestic animals invaded the group. The last sighting was in 1902.

The nominate form of the white-necked petrel (Pterodroma cervicalis cervicalis) occurs throughout a large part of the Pacific, but for breeding purposes is almost entirely confined to Macauley Island in the Kermadec Islands. It formerly bred on Raoul Island as well, but has been extirpated from there. A second small breeding colony has been established on Philip Island, near Norfolk Island.

The New Zealand shore plover (Thinornis novaeseelandiae) was extirpated from mainland New Zealand during the nineteenth century, and today breeds only in South East Island in the Chatham Islands (with vagrants to Pitt Island).

The wrybill (Anarhynchus frontalis) is a type of plover with a curious, sideways-bent bill that breeds only along the rivers of central South Island, before returning to coastal areas throughout New Zealand. It is threatened by habitat destruction.

The weka or Maori woodhen (Gallirallus australis) is a flightless rail endemic to New Zealand. The buff weka (G. a. hectori) historically occurred in the eastern districts of South Island where the Maoris used to kill large numbers for food, sometimes bagging as many as 2000 in a single hunt. It became extinct there about 1925. The subspecies also occurred on Chatham and Pitt islands, but was extirpated there before 1868. Fortunately, in 1905 specimens were reintroduced from South Island, where they increased rapidly and ultimately became fairly abundant. Attempts to translocate a population back to the Canterbury region of South Island in 1961 failed, but another introduction to Mao Waho Island (in Lake Wanaka), and from there to Pigeon and Pig Island (in Lake Wakatipu) have been much more successful.

Fishes of the genus Galaxias are scaleless and tubular in body form. Many are amphidromous, with the fry going to sea after hatching and returning as juveniles to freshwater where they grow to adulthood. The giant galaxias (G. argenteus) occurs in coastal streams, wetland lakes, and lagoons across North Island, South Island, Stewart Island, and the Chatham Islands. The species has undergone a significant decline due to loss of habitat and has been extirpated from many parts of its former range.

The Kermadec Islands

Located about halfway between New Zealand and Tonga, the subtropical, volcanic Kermadec Islands (Rangitahua in Maori) include four main islands and some isolated rocks. There are no native land mammals, but the arc is an important breeding site for several species of seabirds.

The Kermadec red-fronted parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae cyanurus) was historically found throughout the islands, but was eradicated from the principal island of Raoul in the early nineteenth century as a result of introduced cats, goats, and rats. It thereafter survived only on the nearby Herald Islets and on Macauley Island. In 2008, following lengthy island restoration efforts that included the removal of invasive predators, the subspecies began to recolonize Raoul on its own from the Herald Islets.

New Zealand Main Islands

The main islands of New Zealand consist of North Island and South Island, separated from one another by the narrow Cook Strait, and Stewart Island.

The New Zealand greater short-tailed bat (Mystacina robusta) is known from subfossil remains from both South Island and North Island. By the time of European settlement it was probably already restricted to a few small islands off the coast of Stewart Island, where it was last seen on Big South Cape Island in 1967. There have been unconfirmed reports in recent years, but the species is certainly very rare if not already extinct. The New Zealand lesser short-tailed bat (M. tuberculata), one of the most terrestrial of all bats, is divided into three subspecies historically found throughout North Island, South Island, and their satellites. The nominate form (M. t. tuberculata) is confined to a small area of southern North Island, western and southern South Island, and Codfish Island. It is threatened by forest clearance and introduced predators.

The New Zealand long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) is still found patchily on North Island, South Island, and Stewart Island, but is now rare or absent from many areas where it was formerly common. It is threatened by habitat destruction and introduced species.

The New Zealand king shag (Leucocarbo carunculatus) is a large, black and white cormorant confined to a few small islets and rock stacks lying across the outer reaches of Marlborough Sound, north-western South Island. Shooting by fisherman historically destroyed many of their former breeding colonies, but the birds have long been fully protected. The population (about 1000) has been stable for over half a century, with the only major threat being fishing nets. The bronze shag (L. chalconotus) breeds in a small and decreasing number of colonies along south-eastern South Island and on Stewart Island.

Cook’s petrel (Pterodroma cookii) breeds only on three small islands (Little Barrier Island, Great Barrier Island, and Codfish Island), at other times dispersing across the Pacific Ocean as far as the western coast of the Americas. It is threatened by introduced pigs, dogs, rats, and cats, which attack their nests and burrows. Pycroft’s petrel (P. pycrofti) breeds under forest cover on a dozen small offshore islands along the coast of New Zealand, with subfossil evidence indicating that it historically did so on Norfolk and Lord Howe islands as well). It too disperses widely across the Pacific at other times. Translocations have been undertaken with both species.

The black petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni) ranges widely across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to Central America and the north-western coast of South America, but currently breeds only on Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier Island. Colonies were formerly found in the mountains of North Island and South Island as well, but were extirpated during the mid-twentieth century by introduced pigs and feral cats.

The New Zealand storm petrel (Fregetta maoriana) was long known only from putative fossil material and three specimens collected during the nineteenth century, two from the eastern coast of North Island and another of unknown provenance but thought to be from South Island. Thought to be extinct, it was rediscovered in 2003 off north-western North Island and a small breeding colony was subsequently discovered on Little Barrier Island by researchers.

The black-fronted tern (Chlidonias albostriatus) breeds only along riverbanks on South Island, from where it disperses at other times to coastal areas from Stewart Island to southern North Island. It is threatened mainly by introduced species.

The New Zealand fairy tern (Sternula nereis davisae) breeds only in coastal areas of northern New Zealand, where it is threatened by introduced predators.

The black-billed gull (Larus bulleri) is found widely but patchily along the rivers and coasts of North Island and South Island. It is threatened by introduced predators as well as human disturbance of its nesting colonies.

The southern red-breasted plover (Charadrius obscurus) is a type of shorebird historically found on Stewart Island and the southern tip of South Island, but is now restricted, when breeding, to the former. By the early 1990s the species had been reduced to just 62 birds, but thanks to a feral cat eradication programme it recovered rapidly. Unfortunately, despite management the population has since declined once more for reasons that are unclear, and currently numbers around 30–40 breeding pairs.

The New Zealand bittern (Ixobrychus novaezelandiae) was a type of heron only known for certain from South Island, although subfossil material has been discovered on North Island as well (old reports of living birds there were likely based on misidentifications). On South Island only a few specimens were ever recorded, the last in the 1890s. The reason for its extinction is unknown.

Hodgen’s waterhen (Tribonyx hodgenorum) was a type of flightless rail that, to judge from subfossil remains, was historically widespread on both North Island and South Island. It was driven extinct during the seventeenth century as a result of human hunting and rat predation.

The black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) is a seriously threatened wading bird that formerly bred and wintered across both North Island and South Island. Following a long-term decline due to habitat destruction and predation from introduced species it is now confined, during the nesting season, to the upper Waitaki Valley in south-central South Island, where in 2020 the total world population was estimated at less than 200. There is a small but successful captive-breeding programme.

Finsch’s duck (Chenonetta finschi) was a large, flightless, terrestrial species that was historically widespread and common on both North Island and South Island. It is thought to have been driven extinct by a combination of human hunting and predation from introduced species, particularly rats, sometime between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, although an account of a ‘goose’ killed in 1870 suggests that it may have survived far longer.

The blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) was historically widespread across North Island and South Island, but since the arrival of Europeans its range has become highly fragmented. It is now largely confined to wetland areas within the forested mountain ranges of central North Island and western South Island, where in 2010 the total population was estimated at 2500–3000.

The laughing owl (Ninox albifacies) is a now-extinct species divided into two subspecies. The South Island laughing owl (N. a. albifacies) was native to South and Stewart Islands, with bones known from the Chatham Islands as well. It was plentiful in many areas during the early nineteenth century but started to disappear thereafter. The last specimens were collected in 1914, with unconfirmed reports until the 1960s. The cause of the decline was habitat changes and predators; for the latter this ground-nesting owl was an easy prey.

The kakapo or owl parrot (Strigops habroptila) is a large, heavy species that has long been one of New Zealand’s most seriously threatened birds. Flightless and nocturnal, it lives on the ground and climbs trees from which it is able to glide. It was historically widely distributed over both the North and South islands as well as on Stewart Island, but suffered considerably from the destruction of forests and introduced animals. It seems to have been exterminated on North Island by the 1920s and occurred only in a few isolated areas on South Island. One of its last refuges was in Fiordland, where by the 1940s it was becoming scarce. In the 1950s the New Zealand Wildlife Service was established and began to make regular expeditions to search for kakapos, both in the south-west and north-west of South Island, but only a few recent signs were found. Finally, in 1958, a single individual was caught and released in the Milford Sound catchment area in Fiordland. Six more were captured in 1961, one of which was released and the others transferred to aviaries of the Mount Bruce Bird Reserve near Masterton, on North Island. Within a few months four of these birds died, and the fifth about four years later. Over the next dozen years regular expeditions again found few signs of kakapos. Only one was captured, in 1967, which died the following year. By the early 1970s it was uncertain whether the species still survived. But 14 birds were discovered between 1974 and 1976, all of which, unfortunately, were males. In 1977 the species was reported from Stewart Island, where soon after a large number were located. These were being decimated by feral cats and, after efforts to control the latter, it was ultimately decided to translocate all surviving birds to predator-free islands (Maud, Codfish, Mana, and Little Barrier) where they could be closely monitored and protected. Sixty-five kakapo (43 males and 22 females) were successfully transferred onto the four islands. Little Barrier Island was eventually deemed unsuitable due to its rugged landscape and continued presence of rats, and its birds (along with those on Mana) were evacuated in 1998. The entire population on Codfish Island was temporarily relocated in 1999 to Pearl Island while rats were being eliminated, and in 2005 all the kakapo on Pearl and Chalky islands were moved to Anchor Island. In 2012 seven birds were transferred back to Little Barrier Island. As of 2018 the total known adult population was around 150.

The New Zealand kaka (Nestor meridionalis) is a type of large parrot divided into two subspecies. The South Island kaka (N. m. meridionalis) is mostly found west of the Southern Alps on South Island as well as on Stewart Island and several offshore islands. It was much reduced in the past by habitat destruction and hunting, and continues to be rare and declining due to introduced predators.

Malherbe’s parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi) once occurred throughout New Zealand and its offshore islands, but was eradicated everywhere due to introduced rats. It is now confined to a small area of forest in South Island’s Southern Alps.

Iredale’s snipe (Coenocorypha iredalei) was historically found on South Island and Stewart Island along with a few satellite islands. Following the introduction of rats by the Polynesians it was extirpated on South Island and Stewart Island, and thereafter survived on approximately nine small islands off Stewart Island, from where it was progressively wiped out during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to the arrival of rats and other introduced predators. By the early 1960s it was entirely confined to Big South Cape Island, then still predator-free, but in 1964 rats accidentally came ashore by way of a visitor’s boat. In August, 1964, two of the birds were moved to a nearby islet free of rats, but both died. In December of the same year searchers failed to find any snipe left on Big South Cape Island, and none were ever reported again.

The little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii) is a small ratite bird that was historically found in forested areas on both North Island and South Island, but was wiped out from there by introduced predators. It survived only on Kapiti, an island located about 5 km off the western coast of lower North Island. In recent years some have been translocated from there to other small offshore islands and mainland reserves protected by pest-exclusion fences.

The New Zealand quail (Coturnix novaezelandiae) was reported to be very common on the North Island in the 1770s. On the South Island it was abundant until 1865, when it declined rapidly; by 1880 the species was gone throughout New Zealand. Reports from the period 1865–80 agree that extinction resulted from fires that destroyed food, cover, and the birds themselves, combined with predation by dogs, cats, and rats. Later analyses suggest that diseases imported with pheasants and other game birds may also help to explain the extraordinarily rapid disappearance of this species.

The South Island kokako (Callaeas cinereus) is (or was) a crow-like bird that was abundant on South Island as well as on Stewart Island as late as 1888, but disappeared from the latter during the 1940s. It seems to have been confined to the Fiordland area thereafter, with the last confirmed sightings taking place in 2007, and before that in 1967. It is almost certainly extinct.

The South Island saddleback (Philesturnus carunculatus) is a type of wattlebird that once ranged throughout South and Stewart islands as well as the South Cape Islands (Big South Cape, Solomon, and Pukeweka islands). Predation by introduced mammals (mainly ship rats) led to its extirpation on South and Stewart islands by 1900. When rats invaded the South Cape Islands as well in the early 1960s the New Zealand Wildlife Service successfully translocated 36 individuals from Big South Cape Island to nearby Big and Kaimohu islands in 1964, thereby averting the extinction of the species. They have since been translocated to around 20 offshore islets and one sanctuary on the mainland. By 1969 the birds had become extirpated on Solomon, Pukeweka, and Big South Cape islands, but rats have now been eliminated from the latter and the species has been reintroduced there.

The yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala) is a rare type of passerine bird that was once widespread on South Island and Stewart Island. It suffered significant declines and extirpations due to introduced predators, leaving only a few surviving populations in scattered lowland forest fragments on South Island. Fortunately, the species has now been successfully translocated to a few safe offshore islands, and the majority of its mainland range is now subject to predator control measures.

Lyall’s rockwren (Traversia lyalli) historically occurred on both North Island and South Island, but was extirpated there centuries ago by rats brought by Polynesians. A flightless species, it was particularly vulnerable to introduced predators and was ultimately wiped out on Stephens Island, its last refuge, by feral cats. The well-known story that it was systematically exterminated by a single domestic cat belonging to the local lighthouse keeper is at best an exaggeration. While this particular cat did kill one of the last birds seen, a few more were obtained in the following years before the species finally became extinct in 1895.

Pelzeln’s bushwren (Xenicus gilviventris) was historically found on North Island prior to European settlement but is now confined to a few scattered areas on South Island, where it is declining due to nest predation.

The tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) is an ancient reptile endemic to New Zealand. Superficially resembling lizards, they in fact form a distinct lineage of their own and are thus of enormous interest in the study of evolution. The single surviving species once occurred from the northern tip of North Island to near the southernmost part of South Island. They apparently disappeared from the two main islands before the arrival of the Europeans. It is possible that the Maoris contributed to the disappearance, because subfossil remains from their kitchen middens show that they ate it. Maori dogs may also have been involved. But it was primarily introduced rats that have been implicated in the decline. Tuatara eggs take more than 15 months to hatch, making them extremely vulnerable, and adults themselves are also easy prey. Fortunately, a few populations managed to survive on a number of small coastal islands to the north and south of North Island. The northern tuatara (S. p. punctatus) occurs mainly on islands off the northern coast of North Island as well as, marginally, on islands in the Cook Strait. They have long enjoyed official protections, and have been successfully translocated to new islands. In 2005 a population was introduced into a heavily fenced sanctuary on mainland North Island near Wellington, where the animals are now permanently established.

The Cook Strait gecko (Hoplodactylus stephensi) is confined to Stephens and Maud islands as well as to disjunct coastal forest remnants in the northern Coromandel Peninsula of North Island.

The Marlborough green gecko (Naultinus manukanus) is confined to shrubby coastal areas in northern South Island as well as on some of the Cook Strait and Marlborough Sound islands.

Hamilton’s frog (Leiopelma hamiltoni) was historically found throughout much of North Island and South Island, but has long been confined to a single rock tumble on Stephens Island, where the population is vulnerable to predation by tuataras and black rats. Translocation to an adjoining area made into a man-made refugium was attempted in 1992, but with limited success as many of the frogs homed back to the original site. A more successful translocation to a nearby island, Nukuwaiata, occurred in 2004 and 2006.

The New Zealand grayling (Prototroctes oxyrhynchus) was a type of amphidromous (saltwater and freshwater) smelt that was historically widespread and common in the lowland rivers and streams of both North Island and South Island, where it would go to spawn. A combination of habitat destruction and introduced fish species resulted in a noticeable decline by the late 1870s, and the last known specimens were caught sometime during the late 1920s to early 1930s. It was finally given full legal protection in 1951.

The bluegill bully (Gobiomorphus hubbsi) is a type of small goby found patchily in coastal rivers across North Island, South Island, and Great Barrier Island. It is threatened by habitat destruction and degradation.

The torrentfish (Cheimarrichthys fosteri) is a migratory species with a complex life cycle: the fry go to sea after hatching and return as juveniles to shallow, fast-flowing rivers across North Island and South Island. It is threatened by habitat destruction and degradation.

The Gollum galaxias (Galaxias gollumoides) is a nonmigratory species confined to the southern part of South Island and Stewart Island. The dwarf New Zealand galaxias (G. divergens) is found on North Island and South Island where it is fairly widely dispersed in higher-elevation rivers and springs. The shortjawed galaxias (G. postvectis) is found patchily on North Island, South Island, and a number of offshore islands. All are threatened by habitat destruction and degradation and introduced salmonid species.

The brown mudfish (Neochanna apoda) is found patchily in shallow swamp-forest wetland fragments in southern North Island and north-western coastal South Island.

North Island

North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui in Maori) is the most populous of New Zealand’s landmasses, once covered by a mantle of semitropical and temperate forests rich in interesting species, many of which are not gone.

The Kauri lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata auporica) is confined to north-western North Island and Little Barrier Island. The Volcanic Plateau lesser short-tailed bat (M. t. rhyacobia) is found patchily throughout central North Island.

The North Island laughing owl (Ninox albifacies rufifacies) was probably exterminated by rats and cats. The last specimens were collected in 1889, with unconfirmed reports until the 1930s.

The North Island kaka (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis) is a type of large parrot found patchily on North Island and on the offshore islands of Kapiti and Little Barrier Island.

Two species of large, flightless rails known as takahes (Porphyrio) historically inhabited New Zealand, where they appear to have been widespread. The decline of both is thought to have been due to climate change combined with hunting by early Polynesians. Introduced browsing species such as red deer and wapiti also contributed to it by destroying vegetation. As the reproductive rate of these birds is very low, they were unable to easily recover their losses. The North Island takahe (P. mantelli) was an inhabitant of high-altitude alpine grasslands. Known only from subfossil material and a single possible historic record from 1894, it was exterminated by humaninduced habitat changes and hunting.

The North Island snipe (Coenocorypha barrierensis), to judge by subfossil evidence, was historically found throughout North Island but was extirpated there after the arrival of the Polynesians and the associated introduction of Pacific rats (Rattus exulans). It is known to have survived on Little Barrier Island until 1870, when two specimens were found and one captured (later to die in captivity). The birds apparently disappeared soon after, when cats were introduced to the island.

The North Island weka (Gallirallus australis greyi) is a type of rail confined to two widely separated population pockets on North Island (the Northland region and Poverty Bay on the eastern coast).

The northern brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) is a chicken-sized species that remains relatively common within isolated and fragmented areas of North Island and some adjacent offshore islands. It is threatened mainly by introduced predators such as feral dogs and ferrets.

The huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) was a type of wattlebird notable for the fact that the bills of the male and female looked as although they belonged to two, totally different species. The male had a short, arched, thick starling-like bill, while the female’s bill was slender, long, and curved like that of a nectar-feeding bird. These differences suggest different feeding techniques: Both sexes fed on insects, but apparently the male chopped rotten bark from trees while the female probed crevices. Endemic to southern North Island, the last confirmed sighting was in c.1905, although there were credible reports as late as the early 1960s. It appears to have required large tracts of primary, undisturbed forest.

The North Island kokako (Callaeas wilsoni) is a type of wattlebird that still survives in patches of relict forests in the northern part of the North Island. Formerly it occurred throughout the island, but the clearing of forests and predation by opossums, ermines, and rats have led to its decline.

The North Island piopio (Turnagra tanagra) was a thrush-like bird that was reportedly common in southern North Island during the 1870s. By the following decade it had become increasingly rare due to habitat destruction and predation by introduced species. The last confirmed record dates from 1902, although occasional purported sightings occurred up until 1970.

The stitchbird (Notiomystis cincta) is a type of small passerine bird that was relatively common throughout North Island when Europeans arrived, but by 1890 had been extirpated there. Long confined to Little Barrier Island, where it is threatened by introduced cats, it has since been introduced to three other island sanctuaries and to two sites on the North Island mainland.

The North Island saddleback (Philesturnus rufusater) is a type of passerine bird that was abundant and widespread on North Island at the time of European contact, and also occurred on a number of coastal islands. It declined rapidly to extirpation on the North Island mainland, however, following the introduction of predatory mammals, especially ship rats and stoats. By the early 1900s the species was confined to a single population on Hen Island (Taranga), off the northeastern coast. In the 1960s the New Zealand Wildlife Service began a series of translocations, and there are now about 15 populations on various coastal islands along with 5 at predator-fenced mainland sites.

The long-footed bushwren (Xenicus longipes) was a small, almost flightless passerine bird that occurred in three now extinct subspecies on each of the three larger islands of New Zealand. In each case introduced predators were the reason for the decline. The North Island long-footed bushwren (X. l. stokesi) was last reliably reported from the southern Rimutaka Range in 1918 and the Ureweras up to 1955, with additional probable sightings in 1911 on Kapiti Island, 1949 near Lake Waikareiti, and several times in the first half of the twentieth century within the Huiarau Range. Apparently, the last population lived in the area where Te Urewera National Park was established, just around the time of its extinction.

Delcourt’s giant gecko (Hoplodactylus delcourti), the largest of all geckos, was known only from the eastern part of North Island. It is thought to have gone extinct around the mid-nineteenth century.

Several skinks of the genus Oligosoma endemic to North Island have been decimated by loss of habitat and predation from introduced species. The robust skink (O. alani) is a large, rare species that was once widespread on North Island, but is now confined to six small islands off the north-eastern coast. Whitaker’s skink (O. whitakeri) is found on two small, predator-free islands off northern North Island (Middle Island and Castle Island). There is an additional mainland population at Pukerua Bay, near Wellington, and there are plans to translocate some of these to nearby Mana Island. Macgregor’s skink (O. macgregori) is confined to a small area of coastal north-western North Island and in the Cavalli Islands, and to Mana Island off the south-western coast. The striped skink (O. striatum) is found in a few scattered areas of western and north-western North Island and on Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands. The small-scaled skink (O. microlepis) occurs in small, isolated populations throughout central North Island, including one on Motutaiko Island in Lake Taupo.

Archey’s frog (Leiopelma archeyi) is confined to a few areas of North Island, with the largest population occurring in the Coromandel Range. A smaller population is found in the Whareorino Forest of western North Island, from which a few individuals were translocated to Pureora Forest Park in central North Island in 2006.

The Inanga galaxias (Galaxias gracilis) is a land-locked species confined to less than a dozen lakes on the northwestern coast of North Island. It was introduced into Lake Ototoa in the 1980s. It is threatened mainly by introduced fish species.

The Northland mudfish (Neochanna heleios) and the black mudfish (N. diversus) are both confined to swampy areas and wetlands in far north-western North Island, where they are seriously threatened by habitat destruction and degradation as well as by introduced fish species.

The Barrier Islands

The Barrier Islands are located north-west of North Island. They include Great Barrier Island, Little Barrier Island, and a number of smaller islets.

The chevron skink (Oligosoma homalonotum) is confined to Great and Little Barrier Islands, where it is threatened by introduced rats.

Three Kings Islands

The Three Kings Islands are a group of 13 uninhabited islands located about 55 km north-west of North Island.

Falla’s skink (Oligosoma fallai) is confined to the Three Kings Islands.

The Poor Knights Islands

The Poor Knights Islands are located off the north-eastern coast of North Island.

Buller’s shearwater (Ardenna bulleri) is a type of large seabird that breeds only on the Poor Knights Islands, specifically the two main islands and five small islets, although at other times it disperses widely throughout the Pacific Ocean. It is threatened mainly by fisheries by-catch, and potentially vulnerable to the accidental introduction of nest predators in its breeding colonies and to stochastic events.

South Island

South Island (Te Waipounamu in Maori) is the larger of the two main islands of New Zealand. More mountainous and alpine than North Island, with a great chain of mountains more than 3000 m high (known as the Southern Alps) dominating the western and central areas, its wide range of habitats and smaller population has provided a haven of sorts for many species of birds exterminated from the latter. Prior to the arrival of Europeans it was still largely covered by temperate forests, of which only remnants now exist, along with areas of rainforest.

The Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica) is a large seabird that breeds only in the densely forested coastal foothills near Punakaiki, South Island, where it is threatened by habitat degradation due to erosion and landslips. At other times it migrates as far as the eastern coast of Australia and the western coast of South America.

The South Island swan (Cygnus sumnerensis sumnerensis) is thought to have been wiped out by the first Polynesian setters around 1450.

The kea (Nestor notabilis) is a large, cold-adapted parrot from the forested and alpine regions of South Island. A known carrion-eater, it was once killed for bounty due to unfounded concerns by sheep-farmers that it attacked livestock. It has been fully protected since 1986, and today numbers between 3000 and 7000.

The South Island takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri), the world’s largest living rail, was thought to have been extinct since 1898 after the last four specimens were collected. In 1948, however, a small colony of 250–300 was unexpectedly discovered near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains of south-western South Island. The government immediately closed off the area covering the remaining habitat, which fortunately already lay within Fiordland National Park (New Zealand’s largest). Unfortunately, this protection has not been enough to ensure a stable recovery. By 1970 the population was estimated at around 400, but within a decade had been reduced to a fluctuating number of around 100–160 owing to competition with feral deer. The latter are now controlled, with varying degrees of success, by means of hunting from helicopters. The colony was devastated once again in 2007–08 by disease brought on by introduced stoats (Mustela erminea), reaching a low of just 80 individuals by 2014. Fortunately, a captive-rearing (later, captive breeding) programme had been initiated at a special facility near Lake Te Anau, which provided a means to replenish the wild stock. In addition, beginning in the mid-1980s populations had begun to be translocated to eight other, predator-free mainland sites and islands (Mana Island, Tiritiri Matangi, Cape Sanctuary, Maungatautari, Motutapu Island, Tawharanui, Rotoroa Island, and one undisclosed site). In 2016 the total population consisted of some 280 mature individuals, with approximately 87 breeding pairs.

The western weka (Gallirallus australis australis) is a type of rail found mainly in the northern and western regions of South Island.

Several kiwis (Apteryx) endemic to South Island have lost much of their former habitat and continue to be threatened by predation from introduced predators. The great spotted kiwi (A. haastii) is found patchily in western and north-western South Island, and is the only known kiwi species without any secure island populations. The southern brown kiwi (A. australis) is divided into two subspecies. The South Island brown kiwi (A. a. australis) is found patchily in south-western South Island. The Okarito brown kiwi (A. rowi) is confined to the Okarito Forest on the central-western coast of South Island, with further translocated populations on Mana, Motuara, and Blumine islands in the Cook Strait region.

The South Island piopio (Turnagra capensis) is a now extinct type of passerine bird divided into two subspecies. The nominate form (T. c. capensis) was reported to be fairly common up until the 1860s, but declined very rapidly in the 1880s. The last definite record was from 1905. There have been unconfirmed reports since, although none later than 1963.

The South Island long-footed bushwren (Xenicus longipes longipes) was last authentically recorded from Arthur’s Pass in 1966 and Nelson Lakes National Park in 1968. There have been a few unsubstantiated reports since then from Fiordland and Nelson Lakes, but the subspecies is nowadays generally considered extinct.

The black-eyed gecko (Mokopirirakau kahutarae) is an alpine species first discovered in 1970, and now known from a few disjunct mountain peaks in northern South Island.

Three skinks of the genus Oligosoma are threatened by introduced predators and habitat degradation. The scree skink (O. waimatense) occurs in a few rocky areas in central and northern South Island. The Otago skink (O. otagense) and the grand skink (O. grande) are each confined to a few scattered localities in south-central and south-eastern South Island.

The Canterbury mudfish (Neochanna burrowsius) is confined to wetland fragments in central-eastern South Island, where it is considered to be one of New Zealand’s most threatened freshwater fishes.

Several species of galaxias (Galaxias) are endemic to South Island, where they are threatened by loss of habitat and predation by introduced salmonids. The bignose galaxias (G. macronasus) is confined to a few localities within the Waitaki River catchment of south-central South Island. Eldon’s galaxias (G. eldoni), one of the most range-restricted of all non-migratory galaxids, is confined to a few tributaries within the Taieri and Tokomairiro catchments in south-eastern coastal South Island. The dusky galaxias (G. pullus) and the central Otago roundhead galaxias (G. anomalus) are both confined to the Taieri and Clutha catchments in south-eastern South Island. The lowland longjaw galaxias (G. cobitinis) is confined to the Kauru River, a tributary of the Kakanui River, and to parts of the upper Waitaki catchment in south-central South Island. The flathead galaxias (G. depressiceps) occurs within the Taieri, Waikouaiti, Shag, Akatore, and Tokomairiro river catchments of south-eastern South Island. The upland longjaw galaxias (G. prognathus) is found patchily in mid- to high-altitude rivers and streams on the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps.

Stephens Island

Stephens Island (Takapourewa in Maori) lies at the northernmost tip of South Island and is home to several threatened species, including tuataras.

The Stephens Island piopio (Turnagra capensis minor) was driven extinct by 1897 due to feral cat predation.

Maud Island

Maud Island (Te Hoiere in Maori) is located in the Marlborough Sounds at the northern tip of South Island. During the twentieth century much of the forest was cleared for farming, although today it serves as an important, predator-free nature reserve.

The Maud Island frog (Leiopelma pakeka) was historically confined to Maud Island, where at its lowest point it was confined to a single small area of remnant forest. In recent years populations have been successfully translocated to other parts of Maud Island as well as to nearby islands and to a protected area near Wellington.

The Brothers

The Brothers are a group of small islands in the Cook Strait comprised of two main islands and a number of islets.

The Brothers tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus guntheri) occurs naturally only on North Brother Island, where the total population numbers around 400. Since the 1990s they have been successfully translocated to three other islands (Titi Island, Somes Island, and Long Island).

Stewart Island

Stewart Island (Rakiura in Maori) is located 30 km south of South Island. The third largest island of New Zealand, it is surrounded by three larger as well as numerous smaller islands.

The Stewart Island weka (Gallirallus australis scotti) is confined to the Stewart Island archipelago, with an additional introduced population on Kapiti Island.

The Stewart Island brown kiwi (Apteryx australis lawryi) is confined to Stewart Island.

The Stewart Island long-footed bushwren (Xenicus longipes variabilis) was very likely the last surviving of the three subspecies of long-footed bushwren. Historically found on Stewart Island and a few nearby islets, it is known to have survived on the former until 1951 but was exterminated soon after by feral cats. It survived on Solomon Island until the early 1960s, and on Big South Cape Island until the rat invasion of 1964. The New Zealand Wildlife Service attempted to save it by relocating all the birds that they could capture (six in total) to rat-free Kaimohu Island, but the translocation unfortunately failed. The last one died in 1972.

The southern skink (Oligosoma notosaurus) is confined to Stewart and Codfish islands, with an additional population on Betsey Island.

Codfish Island

Codfish Island (Whenua Hou in Maori) is located to the west of Stewart Island. Following the eradication of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and rats in 1998, it has served mainly as a predator-free bird sanctuary and, in particular, the focus of kakapo (Strigops habroptila) recovery efforts.

The Codfish Island fernbird (Poodytes punctatus wilsoni) is confined to this one small island, where it is sensitive to disturbances.

The Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands, about 680 km south-east of New Zealand, are the largest of the island groups belonging to the continental shelf of New Zealand. They consist of about 10 islands within a 40-km radius, the largest of which are Chatham Island and Pitt Island. The latter are the only inhabited islands, the remaining smaller islands being conservation reserves with restricted or prohibited access. Several birds have already vanished from these islands and quite an assemblage of species is obviously going the same way. All the factors that have contributed to the extermination of birds on New Zealand have also operated on the Chatham Islands; Europeans introduced rabbits, goats, and cats, and destroyed the native vegetation. In addition, commercial collectors of rare birds have been at work on the islands, driving a number of species extinct.

The Chatham Island swan (Cygnus sumnerensis chathamensis) is known only from fossils, and is believed to have been driven extinct by Polynesian settlers around 1650.

The Chatham penguin (Eudyptes warhami) with a thin, slim, and low bill, is known only from subfossil bones, but may have become extinct as recently as the late nineteenth century, as a bird kept captive at sometime between 1867 and 1872 might refer to this taxon.

The Chatham albatross (Thalassarche eremita) breeds only on The Pyramid, a 1.7-ha stack in the Chatham Islands.

Two cormorants of the genus Phalacrocorax are endemic to the Chatham Islands. Onslow’s shag (P. onslowi) is confined to Chatham, Star Keys, Rabbit, and Pitt islands. Featherston’s shag (P. featherstoni) is confined to Chatham, Pitt, Mangere, Little Mangere, South East, Star Keys, the Pyramid, Big and Middle Sister, Murumurus, the Castle, and Rabbit islands.

The Magenta petrel (Pterodroma magentae) is one of the world’s rarest birds. First collected at sea in 1867, midway between New Zealand and South America by the Italian ship Magenta, it was not recorded again for another 111 years and was feared extinct. However, in 1978 it was rediscovered on Chatham Island, where it took another 10 years to locate one of its breeding burrows within a forested valley. In 2012 the total population was thought to be around 150–200. The Chatham petrel (P. axillaris) breeds only on South East Island and two predator-protected sites on Chatham and Pitt islands.

Hawkins’ rail (Diaphorapteryx hawkinsi) was known from Chatham and Pitt islands. It was exterminated by hunting sometime after 1895.

Dieffenbach’s banded rail (Hypotaenidia dieffenbachii) occurred on Chatham, Mangere, and Pitt islands. Already rare when the type specimen was collected in 1840, it was extinct by 1872.

The Chatham rail (Cabalus modestus) occurred on Chatham and Mangare islands. It went extinct between 1893 and 1895.

The Chatham snipe (Coenocorypha pusilla) is confined to South East, Star Keys, Mangere, and Little Mangere.

The Chatham oystercatcher (Haematopus chathamensis) is confined to South East, Pitt, Mangere, and a few smaller islands and stacks.

The Chatham parakeet (Cyanoramphus forbesi) is confined to Mangere and Little Mangere islands.

The Chatham pigeon (Hemiphaga chathamensis) was formerly found on Mangere and Pitt islands as well as on Chatham Island, but is now confined to the latter.

The Chatham black robin (Petroica traversi) had, by 1980, the smallest population of any bird for which precise figures are known (two males and three females), and seemed doomed to extinction. A last-ditch conservation effort succeeded in saving the species, although it remains rare and restricted to South East and Mangere islands. All surviving individuals are the descendants of a single breeding pair.

The Chatham fernbird (Poodytes rufescens) occurred on Pitt and Mangare islands. It is thought to have gone extinct around 1892 when the last specimen was collected.

The Chatham bellbird (Anthornis melanocephala) occurred on Chatham, Mangere, and Little Mangere islands. It was last seen on Little Mangere Island in 1906, and a search for it in 1936 was unsuccessful.

The Chatham tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae chathamensis) is a type of passerine bird confined to the Chatham Islands.

Novozelandic Sub-Antarctic Islands

The sub-Antarctic islands of the South Pacific are chiefly comprised of six groups south of New Zealand that have been collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most lie near the south-eastern edge of the largely submerged continent centred on New Zealand known as Zealandia, which was riven from Antarctica between 130 million and 85 million years ago, and from Australia 85–60 million years ago. Until 1995 scientific research staff were stationed permanently at a meteorological station on Campbell Island. Since then, all of the islands have been uninhabited, although they continue to be periodically visited by researchers and tourists.

The southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora), with its more than 3-m wingspan, is one of the largest of all albatrosses. The vast majority of the world’s population nest on rat-free Campbell Island (around 8200–8600 pairs), although there are a few minor colonies within the Auckland Islands. During the non-breeding season the birds disperse throughout the southern oceans, where they are vulnerable to fisheries by-catch. The Antipodean albatross (D. antipodensis) is divided into two subspecies. The nominate form (D. a. antipodensis) breeds on the Antipodes Islands, Campbell Island, and marginally on Pitt Island in the Chatham Islands.

Salvin’s albatross (Thalassarche salvini) breeds colonially within the Crozet Islands of the southern Indian Ocean and in a few islands and a number of islets in sub-Antarctic New Zealand (the Bounty Islands, the Chatham Islands, and The Snares). At other times the birds disperse as far as South Africa and the western coast of South America, where they are threatened mainly by fisheries by-catch.

The erect-crested penguin (Eudyptes sclateri) now breeds only on the Antipodes and Bounty islands. During the mid twentieth century the species was recorded also breeding on the New Zealand mainland, although these were individual pairs that were not part of a larger population. Outside the breeding period the birds have been reported throughout the coastal areas of New Zealand, southern Australia, and even as far as the Kerguelen Islands and Falkland Islands. They are mainly threatened by fisheries by-catch.

The Snares

The Snares is a small island group located about 200 km south of Stewart Island. It consists of the main North East Island and the smaller Broughton Island, as well as the Western Chain Islands some 5 km away. All are biologically important and have been minimally impacted by humans, with no introduced predators.

The Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus) breeds only on The Snares, but ranges at other times as far away as southern Australia and Argentina.

The Snares snipe (Coenocorypha huegeli) was historically confined to The Snares. In recent years translocated colonies have also been established on Putauhinu Island on the coast of Stewart Island and on Codfish Island.

The Snares fernbird (Poodytes caudatus) is confined to the forests of North East Island.

The Snares tomtit (Petroica dannefaerdi) is confined to The Snares in areas of tussock grassland.

The Bounty Islands

The Bounty Islands are a small group of 13 uninhabited granite islets and numerous rocks. They lie about 670 km east south-east of the South Island of New Zealand, and 530 km south-west of the Chatham Islands.

The Bounty shag (Leucocarbo ranfurlyi) is a type of cormorant confined to narrow cliffside ledges. The total population is believed to be less than 1000.

The Antipodes Islands

Located in sub-Antarctic waters about 860 km south-east of Stewart Island, the volcanic Antipodes Islands consist of a main island surrounded by a series of offshore islets and stacks.

The Antipodes parakeet (Cyanoramphus unicolor) is common on the main island and Bollons Island, and occurs in small numbers on Leeward, Inner Leeward, and Archway islets. The population has long held steady at between 2000 and 3000 birds, but the species remains vulnerable should rats come ashore. Hochstetter’s parakeet (C. hochstetteri) is similarly confined to the Antipodes Islands.

The Auckland Islands

The Auckland Islands lie 360 km south of Stewart Island. Tussock grasses dominate the vegetation, but there are also thick forests of southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata). Despite the strong, almost constant west winds, domestic animals were introduced. In 1807 pigs were released, in 1850 cattle and goats, and in 1900 sheep. Rabbits were also introduced. The goats were particularly destructive to the vegetation, and the pigs, cats, and dogs have had a disastrous effect on ground-nesting birds, which were generally trusting and unafraid, as they had never before met mammalian predators.

The Auckland albatross (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni) breeds only on the Auckland Islands (Adams, Disappointment, and Auckland).

The Auckland shag (Leucocarbo colensoi) is confined to the Auckland Islands and adjacent waters, where colonies are present on Auckland, Enderby, Rose, Ewing, and Adams Islands.

The Auckland rail (Lewinia muelleri) was thought to have been exterminated in 1865 by introduced domestic animals. However, in 1966 it was rediscovered on Adams Island, and in 1993 on Disappointment Island. The total population is around 2000.

The Auckland teal (Anas aucklandica) was exterminated on Auckland Island but still survives on Ewing, Enderby, Rose, Ocean, Adams, Disappointment, and Dundas islands.

The Campbell Island Group

About 235 km south-east of the Auckland Islands lies mountainous, uninhabited Campbell Island, together with a number of smaller satellite islets. The main island’s rugged cliffs and inhospitable and harsh climate did not prevent man from introducing sheep and cattle there, which greatly modified the vegetation. Fortunately, the island was declared a nature reserve in 1954. The domesticated animals have long since been removed, and rats eliminated, all of which has led to a recovery of native species.

The Campbell albatross (Thalassarche impavida) breeds only on the northern and western coasts of Campbell Island and on the nearby offshore islet of Jeanette Marie. Numbers appear to be increasing, but the species is still highly vulnerable.

The Campbell shag (Leucocarbo campbelli) is confined to Campbell Island and adjacent offshore islands and stacks.

The Campbell flightless teal (Anas nesiotis) is one of the world’s rarest ducks. Between 1866 and 1944 it was collected only three times and was long feared extinct until its breeding grounds on Dent Island were discovered in 1975. Since then, a successful captive-breeding programme has allowed for the translocation of individuals first to Codfish Island and later to Campbell Island itself. The total population is now in excess of 200.

The Campbell snipe (Coenocorypha aucklandica perseverance) was only just discovered by chance in 1997 on Jacquemart Island. It has since recolonized Campbell Island following the eradication of rats, where it is thriving.


Anthropogenic effects on the flora and fauna

New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses to be settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation, and mtDNA variability within Maori populations suggest that Polynesians first arrived on these islands between ad 1250 and ad 1300. This represented the culmination of a long series of voyages through the Pacific. At some point during the following centuries a group of these settlers migrated to the Chatham Islands. Europeans had known of New Zealand since the mid-seventeenth century, when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first ‘discovered’ the main islands. They would remain little visited over the next two centuries. During 1769–70 the English explorer James Cook circumnavigated North Island and South Island, mapping almost the entire coastline and proving they were not part of a larger ‘Terra Australis Incognita’. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing, and trading ships, greatly transforming Maori culture in the process. In 1791–95 George Vancouver and his expedition discovered the Chatham Islands and The Snares. In 1806 the British mariner Abraham Bristow reached the Auckland Islands, and in 1810 the Australian sealer Frederick Hasselborough visited the Campbell and Macquarie Islands. From the early nineteenth century on Christian missionaries began to settle in New Zealand, which had by then become a British colony. They would eventually convert most of the native population that, by then, had begun to decline dramatically due to introduced diseases and armed conflict.

As discussed previously, prior to the beginning of European colonization a number of species had already been driven to extinction by early Polynesians. Yet New Zealand’s forests, at least, remained mostly intact. It was after the arrival of the Europeans, however, that an arguably even greater destruction of New Zealand’s flora and fauna than anything done previously occurred. Indeed, the negative impact of the European settlers on the region in just two centuries is comparable to what was inflicted upon Australia, North America, and the Caribbean over the same period. Not only were pigs, cattle, goats, and other domestic animals brought in to provide meat but also wild mammals, such as deer and rabbits, for hunting and sport. One mistake led to another. Several species soon began destroying grain, forest, and native animals. Not less than 53 exotic mammals have been introduced, of which 34 are still there. When the rabbits, introduced before 1838, became too abundant, predators such as ermines, polecats, and weasels were brought in. These quickly established themselves, and like rats and dogs, turned on the native birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Another serious mistake was the deliberate introduction of the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) in 1858 as a valuable fur-bearing animal. In New Zealand unlike Australia, this creature, which is herbivorous, caused tremendous destruction in forests and orchards. It increased rapidly and soon the New Zealanders declared a war of extermination against it, killing over 900,000 in 1945 alone. Above all, it is the tens of millions of sheep that have changed the islands beyond recognition, causing serious problems with erosion in the process. Added to this the aforementioned destruction of the forests, the burning of scrub, and the drainage of swamps has led to numerous species and subspecies becoming extinct during the last two centuries alone. Some may yet be wiped out in the near future. Today only a very small amount of mostly planted forest remains in New Zealand, with only remnants of the originals here and there, mainly in the mountains. Elsewhere there are only pastures and agricultural lands. It is no exaggeration to say that the consequences for native plants and animals have been a catastrophe. Moreover, these surviving scraps of wilderness have been greatly harmed by the numerous exotic as well as domestic species introduced over the past thousand years. Thus, the original nature of New Zealand has been destroyed forever, and has been replaced by a composite nature from all continents.