John Hollows handling a blue koura.

On the next episode, screening Sunday 20 May at 7pm on TVNZ 1:

Koura are thriving in unusual circumstances. In sprawling forestry blocks throughout Southland and Otago, zoologist John Hollows is preserving, and farming fresh water crayfish. 

And he’s passionate about this ancient species. “It’s a pretty cool bug, it’s been around 18 million years, and like most things is faced with extinction now. It won’t go extinct in our forests, but in the surrounding streams and catchments they’re hard to find these days”.

It’s the unusual combination of farming these ancient relics, which has ensured their future survival. Threatened in the wild, due to poor water quality from intensive agriculture and storm water from urban environments, koura are a rare find. 

But within six short years, John has brought these creatures back from the brink of extinction. They seeded empty fire-fighting ponds in forestry blocks, introduced a breeding population and now there are thousands of koura spread across 700 ponds. 

The ponds are all located in working forestry blocks and the forestry managers ensure the water quality is fit for growing koura. Manager Tony Livingston has enjoyed the new challenge and change of perspective the Keewai business has given them.

Zoologist John Hollows at one of his forestry ponds.

“It’s great for a forest business like us, doing something different and fitting in with our core business of harvesting. It’s wonderful.”

John, who has an office at the AgResearch’s Invermay facility, near Mosgiel, is New Zealand’s foremost academic on fresh water crayfish and his knowledge is in demand from other groups and iwi who want to grow their own koura population. 

Gore’s Hokonui Runanga is setting up their own koura business and has called on John’s expertise to get started. Spokesman Riki Porata is full of admiration. 

“He’s been phenomenal, it wouldn’t have happened without him. Because he’s got the science background as well, he knows the biology, and that’s why we’ve gone all in with him; because he knows his stuff.”

But for John being in the forest and doing what he loves is the best part of the job. “Everyone's passionate and excited about it. I get out of bed and I meet interesting people and some interesting crayfish! I’m a very lucky man”. 

Find out more about Keewai New Zealand here. Or contact John at

Find out more about Ngai Tahu & Koura here.

Read a guide on growing koura here.




Dan Henry


Camera & Aerial Photography

Peter Young


Field Sound

John Patrick


Editor & Colourist 

Mike Townsend


Post Production Manager

Bailey Palmer


Sound Mixer

Ian Leslie



Stephen Gallagher


Production Manager

Robyn Best



Vivienne Jeffs 


Network Executive

Vicki Keogh


Associate Producer

Dan Henry



Celia Jaspers



Julian O’Brien