Work is underway to save one of New Zealand's rarest skinks by housing 50 of them at Auckland Zoo until a safe habitat can be created for them.
In 2017 there were estimated to be only 200 of the endangered Chesterfield skinks left and the species took a further hammering in February when Cyclone Fehi's tidal surges destroyed nearly half their habitat on the West Coast.
With the threat of coastal erosion increasing, Department of Conservation staff and volunteers caught 50 of the creatures which were flown to Auckland Zoo where, with support from the Endangered Species Foundation, they have since been cared for.
Auckland Zoo's curator of ectotherms and birds Richard Gibson said they replicated their natural West Coast micro-habitat and climate to continue their natural behaviour.
He said this approach would help maximise chances of survival once returned back to a safe area in the wild.
"This is the first time Chesterfields have ever been cared for in captivity, so we're also observing, recording and learning everything we can about them to share and help us all gain a greater understanding of them to assist their future conservation management."
DOC senior ranger Fiona Anderson said the emergency rescue provided much-needed security for the tiny population.
"Auckland Zoo's ability to house 50 animals with less than 24 hours' notice was critical at the time of the rescue and the Endangered Species Foundation provided much-needed funding towards the set-up costs for looking after the skinks."
Endangered Species Foundation's co-chairs Grant Leach and Rose Hiha-Agnew said the skink was one of the 10 most endangered species in New Zealand and this highlighted the impact of habitat loss and predation.
The foundation were thankful for private donations which permitted the urgent rescue to happen at the time it did, said Leach and Hiha-Agnew.
Anderson said the next step was to find an area to build a predator-proof enclosure at their West Coast home.
"Once this is complete, and predators have been removed, we'll return the captive population to the fenced area."