New Zealand's largest native grasshopper 'jumping for joy' as home becomes conservation land

The home of the country's largest native grasshopper is now a safe haven for the endangered critter.

A large section of the Mackenzie Basin has been protected as conservation land, and scientists say it could help save the large insect, with only a few hundred robust grasshoppers left in the world.

The University of Canterbury's Tara Murray says unlike most grasshoppers, the giant critters "don't jump and land on blades of grass like other grasshoppers do. They really just flop around".

The endangered creature, only found in small pockets of the Mackenzie Basin, and now 440 hectares of the area, known as the Tekapo Triangle, has been converted into conservation land in the hopes of protecting them.

The Department of Conservation's (DOC) Warren Chinn says the protected area is "a safe haven" or "stronghold" for the grasshopper.

"It's fantastic. At last, an invertebrate that's endemic to New Zealand is getting accorded protection. Or, at least, its habitat is getting accorded protection that is long-needed ," Mr Chinn said.

The Mackenzie country's distinctively dry landscape and ecosystem is under increasing threat from farming expansion - and predators.

However, the free transfer of Crown land to the DOC estate has afforded the area legal land protections.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says the grasshopper is "a species that depends on our native mosses [and] lichens to survive, so protecting the habitat should have the grasshopper jumping for joy".

Along with the Tekapo Triangle's legally protected status, scientists have formed six breeding pairs of the grasshopper at the University of Canterbury.

It's hoped efforts to protect the grasshopper's natural habitat will see its population rise.

Once numbers in the wild are able to once again thrive in the wild, scientists will look to strengthen groups outside the triangle.

"Magnificent animal, you know. They're a true Gondwanan legacy," Mr Chinn said.

A large section of the Mackenzie Basin has become protected land. Source: 1 NEWS