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Regular monitoring of native lizards reintroduced to Central Otago shows growth in their population numbers and particularly in new births.

Dr Grant Norbury, chairman of the Central Otago Ecological Trust, said 162 captive-bred lizards were introduced to the Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary in 2018 in an attempt to repopulate what had been their original home.

The lizards had been lost to the area because of predators and habitation loss.

The sanctuary encompasses 14ha of Central Otago hill country near Alexandra, surrounded by 1.6km of predator-proof fence.

The lizards introduced to the sanctuary were 33 grand skinks, 43 Otago skinks and 86 jewelled geckos.

New generation . . . The jewelled gecko is one of three native lizard species reintroduced to Central Otago and thriving in the sanctuary. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Recent surveys, including one last month where two experts from Wellington Zoo joined local conservationists, have recorded 20 grand skinks, 43 Otago skinks and 23 jewelled geckos that had been born in the sanctuary and survived.

“They all have unique markings so we photograph each animal to build up a picture of how things are going,” Dr Norbury said.

“What’s really encouraging is that the number of young is really increasing.”

Joel Knight, a reptile and invertebrate keeper at Wellington Zoo who is soon to become team leader of the department, spent two weeks in Alexandra in October with colleague Matt Forbes, acting leader of herbivores and birds at the zoo.

Their visit was one of several supported by the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund to assist fieldwork operations around the world and was Mr Knight’s second research survey with the Central Otago Ecological Trust.

He and Mr Forbes had a particular interest in the grand and Otago skinks that were relocated to the sanctuary in 2018, Mr Knight said.

Ready for our close-up . . . Matt Forbes, of Wellington Zoo, photographs Otago skinks in the sanctuary. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“We cared for some of the individuals that were used to found the sanctuary population when they were housed at the zoo.”

Both said such fieldwork gave them the chance to expand their knowledge and view animals that they cared for in the zoo in their natural environment.

Mr Forbes said he was excited to have trialled a method of luring the “extremely skittish jewelled geckos out of hiding using a laser pointer, attracting their attention as one might a cat”.

“The juveniles, more so than the adults, were all over it as if it were food.”