Mokomoko - Kahurangi Skink

Check out some of the amazing things Anna Zrinyi-Morgan is getting up to.

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Kia ora whānau. As you will mostly all know by now, every year one of our major zones takes on the name of native New Zealand fauna l and our team of sculptors turn driftwood and timber into a lifelike representation of our selected critter to become the central focus point of the space. This creature becomes our totem animal which we use to shape the narrative of the year's event. We truly believe in the kaupapa of protecting Papatuanuku; the earth we walk on - not only are we grateful to her, but also her inhabitants who we exist alongside. Last year we chose to feature the Kahurangi skink (or Mokomoko), a recently discovered, rare species of native lizard. We printed a limited edition run of Tee Shirts featuring the art of Kiri Inc to fundraise towards conservation of this precious taonga. In a brilliant stroke of synchronicity we discovered the wonderful Anna Zrinyi-Morgan, who was working on the festival crew, is undertaking research into the ecology of the Kahurangi skink. Unbeknownst to us, the best possible person for this fundraising to go to was already part of the whānau and so naturally we have put the money towards her research.

Keep reading to hear about Anna’s fascinating Mokomoko tales, and the hard work she’s doing to research and protect these radical alpine reptiles. 

The Kahurangi skink (Oligosoma Kahurangi) is a skink specialised to living in alpine regions, mostly above 1400m in elevation. Kahurangi skinks are currently only known from two small sites in the Kahurangi park. These two sites are geographically isolated from each other and are small in size. The resulting small population size and limited area of occupancy means that the conservation status of this species is currently considered "Nationally Critical", and they may be at risk from introduced species predation. The Kahurangi skink is characterised by its long toes and extremely long tail, that often is much longer than its body. 

Skinks found in the Douglas range of the Kahurangi National Park were first brought to researchers' attention by Alec Milne from the community conservation group Friends of Cobb in 2017. Researchers were able to then formally describe the Kahurangi skink as a new species in 2021. 

My last trip to collect data on this species was in March 2023. These skinks live at the top of maunga and ridgelines, meaning that during the colder months these places are often covered with snow, during that period these skinks will likely enter torpor - a period of inactivity. I plan to revisit sites in the coming summer period to collect more data. 

Finding skinks in remote alpine regions can be tricky. Skinks and geckos in New Zealand can often be quite cryptic and hard to find. Once we are able to sight them, we carefully hand catch them. One of the methods we use to better understand the Kahurangi skink's ecology is by using non-invasive tracking methods. To do this we gently brush a special kind of non-toxic ultraviolet fluorescent (UV) paint powder onto the skinks' belly and feet. We then come back to the site at night with a UV torch. This lets us see where the skinks tracks are and what type of habitat they interact with. The UV paint powder brushes off completely within 30 meters of tracking and doesn't harm the skinks in any way. 

Alpine regions in the Kahurangi National Park are often hard to access, usually taking multiple days to tramp into, with some sites being completely off track. This is the first ecological study of the Kahurangi skink, therefore requiring repeated trips into these remote areas. The funding from Twisted will be used to help support myself and volunteers to undertake field work in remote sites on the Kahurangi skink. 

A huge thank you to Anna and her team for the amazing work they do in Aotearoa! Once again we will have a limited print featuring art from Kiri inc that is fundraising for the conservation of this years totem animal, make sure to stop by the info dome and score one before they're all snapped up <3

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