In 2011, as the Western Grand skink edged to the brink of extinction in the wild, the Department of Conservation (DOC) launched a last-ditch mission to capture the few remaining skinks. They caught what they believed to be the last few here on Lake Hāwea Station and took them to a breeding facility in the hope they would reproduce. Unfortunately breeding in captivity had limited success and their fate in the wild looked uncertain.
For eight years it was unknown if Western Grand Skinks had survived. Then in April 2019, having recently heard of their plight, I organised an expedition lead by Dr. Carey Knox, aka ‘Dr. Skink’, myself, and 16 undergraduate students from the USA. We ventured out to see what we could find.
For us at Lake Hāwea Station (LHS), as custodians of our whenua (land) and endemic species, it is critical we work to regenerate the landscape, improve biodiversity, and enhance carbon sequestration across this fragile ecosystem. As well as the Western Grand Skink, LHS is home to other endangered species such as the Tree Daisy, Cyprus Hebe, Clutha Flathead Galaxiid (New Zealand’s second-rarest fish) and our native falcon, the kārearea.
Our farming system and tourism operations both place a significant burden on the environment, though they also generate revenue that can drive conservation. For us, it is so important to do more good than harm, which is why we invest so much in restoration and endeavor to share the stories of this land and its taoka. We want our impact to be net positive, leaving the land – and this place – better than when we first stepped on it.