By Beatrice Lee, KCO Dunedin
Dunedin KCC had a trip out into the tussock covered hills overlooking the Maniototo last weekend, to learn about the special skinks that are just holding on in their home, despite the past being a time of burning, vegetation clearance, farming and the introduction of many different types of animals that want to eat them.
It is amazing they are still there, and it is also now largely due to the fantastic work that the Department of Conservation does in controlling pest animals. Some of the skinks are lucky enough to live inside predator proof fences, but the rest rely on the DoC hunters and trappers to kill the cats/rats/pigs/stoats/ferrets/mice/hedgehogs etc. that think skinks and geckos are delicious and easy meals.
To be a skink spotter, you need to be slow moving and equipped with binoculars – some of us KCCers were lucky to see a couple of skinks. One sat for us for ages, and we wondered what it would eat. On a hotter day, the tussocks are alive with flying insects that he/she would have loved to catch with his tongue as they flew past. Our day was a bit cooler – when he ran away to hide, we collected some of the berries off the bushes close by and placed them on the stone for when he came back later. I hope he liked our offering.
Others found different treasures to marvel at – long dead rabbit skeletons, crickets, worms and the stand out special thing, a gecko’s shed skin! You can see it’s little toes, like he has just taken off his gloves. The patterns on the skin are still preserved, too. Very cool!
DoC has tracking tunnels around here, but inside the fenced areas they hope to not see the tracks of predators! We didn’t see any on the cards we saw, luckily, but instead there are were the really cool prints of skink’s toes, drag marks where their tails got inked and then slid along the card as they went on their way, and on another card were gecko toe prints.
Imagine if you could see these types of tracks in your backyard tracking tunnel. Wouldn’t that be a cool aim for Predator Free New Zealand!
On the way home, we stopped at a site that had once been a Māori stone knapping site – a sheltering boulder being a good place to sit while fashioning blades from the hard rock that is quite unlike the general schist around here. Māori must have been so pleased to have found this rock was just right for making a sharp blade – imagine if we didn’t have knives nowadays – how would you cut up your steak??
One stone we found had a lovely groove for your thumb to fit in, while your fingers curled around the fat end of the stone, making a perfect hold to use the sharp side for cutting. It was very tempting to take these stones home, but I am glad we didn’t – imagine if a kaumatua (elder) of the Māori people who had made these was standing there with us. It would have felt like stealing his taonga (sacred treasures). The stones feel to me like taonga of all New Zealanders, now.
This was a special visit to really special fauna and cultural sites. Thank you very much to the Department of Conservation for hosting us, educating us, and inspiring us to care. And for looking after these taonga for us all.