Africa has its Big Five - the African Cape buffalo, the lion, the leopard, the black rhinoceros, and the African elephant. We have the flax snail. When it comes to exotic, alluring and - above all -dangerous animals, New Zealand is at a serious disadvantage compared not only to Africa but, I would argue, just about anywhere else in the world.
On one hand this is a good thing, in that we don't have many dangerous animals that can kill us just with their aura. Compared to our close neighbours and long-time rivals just across the sea to our west, we are pleasantly bereft of animals lurking in every bush, on every beach and under every toilet seat that want nothing more than to bite humans with dastardly intent.
But when you're trying to open a new attraction at Auckland Zoo, our lack of threatening or even just mildly intimidating natural fauna has to be something of a hindrance - at least in a marketing sense.
Te Wao Nui is Auckland Zoo's celebration of our not-so-wild wildlife. It is divided into six habitats that cover all our bases, habitat-wise: Coast, Islands, Wetlands, Night, Forest and High Country. Personally I'd add House and Shed, to represent the places I encounter wildlife the most, but apart from this minor quibble I'd say that Te Wao Nui looks darn cool and very educational and I am looking forward to herding the whanau in its direction very soon.
But the one adjective you'd be hard-pressed to apply to Te Wao Nui is "exciting". Maybe if you're a rabid herpetologist, obsessed with the territorial battles of the chevron skink, then it's exciting, but for us normal people, lizards getting tetchy with one another just doesn't cut it.
We have got bats, which I suppose, in these vampire-obsessed times, is something. Mind you, they are short-tailed bats that hunt insects and fruit rather than feasting on the blood of humans, so even Anna Paquin would be safe among them. Also they tend to scramble round on the forest floor looking for their food, which isn't quite as terrifying as swooping out of the darkness, attacking en masse.
At least the long-finned eels you'll find in the Wetlands part of Te Wao Nui eat living, breathing creatures. Insect larvae, water snails, fresh-water crayfish, even the odd duckling: nothing is safe from the velociraptor of our inlands waterways - well, nothing except everything larger than a duckling. I know it's not very PC, but if Auckland Zoo could train our long-finned eels to leap out of the water like the killer whales at Sea World in San Diego, that would at least be a start on the excitement front. See the Killer Eels Fly at Te Wao Nui!
But after the bats and eels, things are really thin on the ground at Te Wao Nui when it comes to terrifying or even just exciting animals.
Many people would, I'm sure, find an interactive cave weta attraction genuinely frightening, but I suspect that the human tendency to shriek loudly and then stamp on the wetas would not be good in the long run (or even short run) for Te Wao Nui's weta population. Also, given that cave wetas are completely harmless to humans, it is false advertising to turn them into an object of terror just because they look creepy.
And after the weta, all we're left with at Te Wao Nui is animals with sort of exciting/terrifying names - if you have a very low threshold for terror, that is. Behold the common bully! They can sometimes grow to more than 120mm in length. Exactly like piranha, but without all the teeth. And if you think they're scary, wait until you see the red-finned bully ... even scarier than the common bully because bits of them are red - the colour of blood!
Then, just to top off all this excitement, up on the High Country of Te Wao Nui you'll find the rough gecko. That's right, a gecko that is rougher than all the other geckos put together. Mess with this gecko at your peril.
And then, out on the Coast part of Te Wao Nui, there's the spotted shag - possibly the angriest bird in the world, because people keep making jokes about its name. Sure, okay, it won't actually attack and kill you, but it will certainly sit there thinking malevolent thoughts toward you while you laugh at it. And let us not forget the little blue penguin, also known as the Killer Penguin of Death - or Penguin de la Muerte by Spanish sailors. These ferocious penguins often hunt in packs, using their razor-sharp beaks and talons to ...
Okay, yeah, now I'm making stuff up. Sorry. Te Wao Nui, where you go when you've had enough excitement for one day.