Searchers looking just north of Hokitika for one of the rarest vertebrate animals in the country have struck gold.
The Chesterfield skink was identified only 20 years ago and has a conservation status of "nationally critical", indicating the highest risk under the New Zealand threat classification system criteria.
By last summer less than 30 had been found at one very localised site at Chesterfield, 15km north of Hokitika.
Department of Conservation Hokitika operations manager Ian McClure said monitoring had been ongoing over the summer-autumn period, and so far just over 100 had been found.
Searches had been made in locations further afield to determine if the skinks were present in a wider area, but none had been found yet. Some seed collection of native coastal plants to be grown for future habitat restoration had also taken place, but plans were yet to be finalised for habitat protection and predator control, Mr McClure said.
"We expect to have more news about this in several months. Because the skinks are so geographically confined, it's important that any work we do in their habitat is well considered."
Threats to the skinks included further habitat loss from ongoing pasture development and predation by introduced stoats, weasels, cats, rats, mice and hedgehogs, as well as native weka.
A single benefactor has donated $50,000 to help, with the bequest held by the Endangered Species Foundation.
- Greymouth Star