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10 Charming Animals Found Only in New Zealand

Situated off the east coast of Australia, New Zealand is a sovereign island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Filled with stunning landscapes and brimming with culture, New Zealand is a popular tourist destination. It is known as a peaceful, beautiful country, and also filled with quite a few charming animal species that can rarely be found outside of New Zealand.

Lesser Short-Tailed Bat

Lesser Short-Tailed Bat

The Lesser Short-Tailed bat is native to New Zealand and used to be found widespread across New Zealand but now is only found in 30% of the area it once was. These nocturnal creatures grow to around 6-7cm, and only weigh up to 22 grams. The Lesser Short-Tailed Bat is one of the most terrestrial bats, meaning it forages on the forest floor significantly more frequently than other species of bat. These animals inhabit old-growth temperate forests, which must contain large trees which can be used for colonial roosts (though they also roost in caves), as well as plenty of epiphytes and deep leaf-litter. This environment is essential as their diet consists of nectar, pollen, and fruit.

As the species rely on foraging for its survival, it is heavily impacted by forest clearance, as well as the introduction of rats and stoats to their environment. Rats and stoats were introduced to the Southern Titi Islands, which led to the extinction of the species in this area, as well as on Codfish Island, though thankfully a rat removal strategy was implemented which led to an increase in bat population on the Island. However, due to forest clearing and the introduction of rats the species is still considered vulnerable with an estimate of only 30 000 left in the wild.[1]

South Island Hector’s Dolphin

Named after New Zealand zoologist, Sir James Hector, South Island Hector’s dolphin is one of the two subspecies of Hector’s dolphins. The South Island Hector’s dolphin is found around the South Islands of New Zealand and is one of the smallest species of dolphin ever found. Typically, dolphins, such as the bottlenose have a length of 2.5 meters long, South Island Hector’s dolphins can grow to 1.6 meters long.[2] This species is easily identifiable due to its distinct black markings on its fins, tails, flippers, and faces as well as its rounded dorsal fin, similar to that of Mickey mouses ear, as well as a short snout.[3] This species is considered endangered with a population of around 7000.[4]

North Island Maui’s Dolphin

The North Island Maui’s Dolphin is endemic to New Zealand and found on the west side of the North Island and is both the smallest and rarest dolphin species to exist. This subspecies of Hector’s dolphin only grows to a maximum of 1.5 meters, and shares its distinct black, grey and white markings, short snout and mickey mouse ear shaped dorsal fin with the South Island Hector’s dolphin. One major difference between this subspecies and the South Island Hector’s dolphin is that the Maui’s dolphin has an estimated population of 47 which makes the species critically endangered.

As both Hector species of dolphin dwell close to shore, is shallow waters, set netting and trawling are significant threats to these animals as these nets are placed throughout the entirety of their habitat. Another contributing factor is the females start breeding at around nine years, and only have one calf every 3-4 years which makes the reproduction rate very slow, and incredibly hard for the species to replenish its population.[5]

Kea

New Zealand animals - Kea

The Kea species is an olive-green parrot with scarlet underwings and a slender grey and black bill that is native to New Zealand. Kea is found across the South Island, from Farewell Spit to Waitutu as well as in the Kaikoura Ranges. Their native habitat in with native forest, as their foraging nature makes all sorts of native forest suitable, such as sub-alpine scrub, tussock, and herb fields. Interspecies socialization occurs on rocky outcrops and windy saddles above or below the timberline and is also frequently reported to be seen in pine forests next to native forests.

This parrot species are monogamous, meaning they have long term pair bonds between male and female birds. Kea is considered to be remarkably intelligent, even when compared to other birds and mammals.[6] One of the most notable characteristics of the species is their laughter. A new study states that Kea is the first non-mammal species to demonstrate infectious laughter. Scientists played a recording of the notorious Kea bird call for both males and females of the species, and discovered that upon hearing the call other Kea reacted to the call by exhibiting more and more extended play behaviors, conclusively proving that this “infectious laughter” did undoubtedly put the other Kea in a good mood upon hearing it.[7]

Yellow-Eyed Penguins

The Yellow-Eyed Penguins are the largest of all the penguins that are known to breed in New Zealand. The breeding sites the birds can be seen in a typically on or around the South Island. These penguins are renowned for this distinctive look; pale yellow uncreated feathers form a band passing across the nape and around the eyes, and of course also their yellow eyes.[8] Why do they have yellow eyes?

A study discovered that the yellow color is due to a chemical called carotene, which contains high levels of Vitamin A. Carotene is the pigment that is responsible for giving color to things such as carrots and tomatoes, and also even to some sea creatures. The study also revealed that the yellow eye and feather color actually held some importance. The darker the shade of yellow, the more likely a bird was to rear more chicks when compared to those with a paler yellow. This also suggests that birds with a deeper shade also were better at catching food.[9]

Chevron Skink

The Chevron Skink is the most secretive, and the longest lizard found in New Zealand, where it is endemic. These lizards are capable of growing to size over 30cm from nose to tail and feature dark bands extending around the face from below the eye to under the lower lip, with their being a pale, distinct tear drop shape just below the eyes. As of 2019 it is only known to be found on Great Barrier Island and Litter Barrier Island and has only been sighted around 500 times in the past 113 years, which averages out to be only 4.5 times a year.

The lizard was first scientifically described in 1906, and between then and the 1970’s it was just sighted twice, the skink fell off the scientific radar for 60 years. Until 1991 it was believed that the lizard was only inhabiting the Great Barrier Island, but a single skink was discovered, effectively ruling out this notion. A decade after the eradication of the Pacific rat on Little Barrier Island, more and more sightings occurred which shows that some population of the skink survived the infestation and that their populations are now expanding.[10]

New Zealand Fur Seal

New Zealand Fur Seal

In New Zealand, this species can be found in quite a few places around New Zealand, and on the southern coast of Australia. They can be seen on the rocky shores around the mainland of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands and the subantarctic islands, including Macquarie Island, though they have also been spotted as far North as Auckland, these creatures have also been seen in the coast of South Australia, Western Australia, and even Tasmania.

This species of the seal can be mistaken for a sea lion, as they have ear flaps and hind flippers which rotate forward granting them the ability to move on land quickly. It does, however, have many defining characteristics the prove it to be otherwise. The New Zealand fur seals have a pointy nose and a smaller size than to that of a sea lion. Sea lions also are typically seen on sandy beaches, so the location you see the sea lion or fur seal would be another indication. When dry the New Zealand fur seal is a dark grey-brown color and becomes almost black when wet.[11]

The Hooker’s Sea Lion

New Zealand animals - The Hooker’s Sea Lion

The Hooker’s Sea Lion is one of the largest mammals that can be found in New Zealand, with females weighing in at 370 pounds, and males breaking the scale at 990 pounds. Females are typically only 7 feet long, while males can grow to 11.5 feet. This species is generally found in large groups on beaches around South Island and the Auckland Islands, though it wouldn’t be strange to see smaller groups scattered elsewhere, though these smaller groups tend to amalgamate with the larger groups. They certainly do not have a picky diet, and in fact, will often eat anything and everything they can find meaning their diet typically consists of squid, octopus, crab, crayfish, and any other fish that happens to be around.

The Hooker’s Sea Lion is considered vulnerable as its population is steadily decreasing. In the mid-1990s a study revealed the population to be about 15,000, another count was undertaken in the 2000s revealing there to be around 13,000. This decrease is likely a result of the disease spread throughout the sea lion population as a result of an increase in human interaction in 1998. Coinciding this, 124 sea lions are allowed to be killed annually to improve the profitability of the catch. Many organizations are working towards decreasing this number.[12]

New Zealand Wood Pigeon

This species of the pigeon is endemic to New Zealand and is found in the forested areas of both the North and South Islands. The birds defining characteristics is its iridescent green and bronze feathers covering its head and neck, contrasting with its white chest. These birds are also easy to spot due to their side; they can grow up to 51 centimeters from its tail to its beak and weigh up to around 650 grams. Unfortunately, the species are witnessing a gradual decline in its population as a result of habitat loss, predation, competition, and illegal hunting.

New Zealand has ensured that the hunting of the bird is now illegal which has helped the species some, though its most significant threat comes from species that have been introduced to their habitat including rats, stoats, cats, and possums. These introduced species are known to eat the eggs, and young of the bird, which is problematic as the rate of reproduction is low, with only one egg being laid per nest during spring and early summer.[13]

New Zealand Robin

The New Zealand Robin is another species endemic to New Zealand, with the species being found only on the central North Island, as well as Little Barrier Island and Kapiti Island. They can be found in mature forests, tall scrub, and exotic plantations though they tend to favor areas that have an open understorey beneath a closed canopy.

The species used to be widespread over the North Island but now is only seen in the forests in the center of the island. A reason for this change is due to the clearance of forests during the 19th and 20th centuries to increase the space available for farmland, though the declining population today is likely due to the introduction of species such as rats, stoats, feral cats and possums which prey upon eggs, young and even females. Two of its most identifiable characteristics is its notably long legs and erect stance- though the bird may be identified through its loud bird song long before the bird is even sighted.[14]

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