A rare golden-coloured eel is happily swimming with the rest of the herd after being found during restoration work at the Foxton River Loop.
The bright yellow eel was considered an extremely rare find and a taonga by on-site iwi partners Ngati Raukawa, who worked alongside Horowhenua District Council and Foxton Wildlife Trust in catching and releasing more than 1600 eel back into the river recently.
Ecologists from the Wildlife Foxton Trust and cultural monitors from Ngāti Raukawa helped remove tuna (eels), inanga (whitebait) crabs and yellow-eyed mullet from the area prior to silt being removed.
On-site ecologist Caitlin Lavery was working alongside kaitiaki Toha Eparaima, wading through mud and plant life catching any river wildlife that had been disturbed and releasing it safely downstream a short time later.
It was then that they came across a bright "banana-coloured" eel. A digger operator pulled back some weed, and there he was.
"I got a shock because he was so bright. It does take you back when you see something so bright," she said.
"I couldn't believe. I dragged people over to have a look. It was very special."
Lavery said the eel was treated like all the others and safely returned to the river promptly, in keeping with iwi custom. He (or she) looked strong and healthy swimming away.
She said the eel was a different colour due to a genetic mutation, a change in appearance that can occur in any animal species due to a loss of pigmentation.
"He's supposed to be grey, or black, or brown," she said.
What was unique is that he seemed so strong and had survived to adulthood. Generally differences in colour, like albinism, made animals more susceptible to predators.
A similar coloured eel had been found in Waikato a few years ago, while yellow eels were common in parts of Asia.