Discovery of rare gecko last sighted decades ago excites rangers on the West Coast

Department of Conservation rangers on the West Coast say they have "struck gold" with the discovery of two lizard species in the Okarito Sanctuary, near the township of Franz Josef.

The Okarito gecko is patterned in lichen-like shades of grey, green and brown, making them well camouflaged and very difficult to find. Source: Rheanne Sullivan, DOC

A statement released by DOC today states a gecko found by rangers, identified as the elusive Okarito or broad-cheeked gecko (Mokopirirakau “Okarito”), was last encountered decades ago.

According to DOC very little is known about it with just a handful of records and sightings over the years.

Te Runanga o Makaawhio Chairman Paul Madgwick welcomed the discovery as an "exciting find" of a taonga species on the brink of extinction.

Rheanne Sullivan, Biodiversity Ranger in South Westland says; "With the species currently classed as "data deficient", our focus now is to improve our understanding of its ecology and conservation needs. Finding them is just the beginning.”

The Okarito gecko. Source: Rheanne Sullivan, DOC

This is the second lizard discovery in Okarito in the last year, after a Canterbury grass skink was found by a member of the local community predator control programme while out checking traps, DOC says.

The find expanded the species’ known range, as it has never previously been recorded as far south on the West Coast as Okarito.

New Zealand has 43 recognised species of gecko, 64 species of skink and a high likelihood of many more to be discovered as genetic identification techniques improve and new species are found in remote areas. 

If you see a lizard, especially on the West Coast or in the alpine zone, DOC asks you to inform them via their local office or email