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Children are being called on to help protect skinks in Central Otago and Wanaka.

Jan Kelly, of Wanaka, supported by Landcare Research Alexandra representative Dr Grant Norbury, wants to raise awareness in the hope of driving the small creatures’ numbers back up.

She said she hoped young children could help.

“With children learning from home at present, there is a real opportunity for them to take time to make safe spaces for these little locals before winter sets in, and to learn about caring for wildlife at the same time.”

Skinks that could be found in Central Otago were most likely to be McCann’s skink, also known as Oligosoma maccanni, she said.

“They grow to about 12cm, can live for 15 years, have dark-brown side stripes and an intricate pattern on their backs and tails.”

She said while there were many small skinks around the district’s terraces and hills, numbers had declined, particularly in urban areas.

“In Wanaka, for example, they are not surviving in the urban area and suburbs,’’ she said.
‘‘People tell us they used to be everywhere — a mere 20 years ago — and now, mostly, they are not.”

In New Zealand there was a focus on trapping predators, but we should also “watch out” for habitat, she said.

“It provides shelter and food and provides refuge from predators, hence the need for people to not manicure their backyards but keep them ‘untidy’, within reason.”

Mrs Kelly encourages people who have seen skinks in or near their garden to “meet them halfway”.

“Leave them a corner, give them food plants and safe shelter. Arrange with a neighbour to have a matching refuge through the fence,” she said.

“Low, tangled shrubs with finely mixed shadows also help skinks to hide, and pine bark slabs layered like an apartment house have gaps they can whip into, plus warm surfaces to bask on all year.”

She said skinks needed very little space, a metre or so, with a gap under a rock or in the ground that they could retreat to and semi-hibernate over winter.

Mrs Kelly also suggested using a rabbit hole in a bank, which could be closed off and packed with rounded river stones and bark to provide a safe and permanent refuge.

Skinks would start semi-hibernating over the next month but would still come out on a sunny day for an hour or so, she said.