Endangered Species Week

17 May 2019 Chloe Brigden

Senior ecologist, Mark Yungnickel, has earned himself the nickname Lizard Man for his work protecting our threatened native species.

New Zealand has around 90 species of native lizard but habitat loss and introduced pests have had an impact on their numbers, something that Mark is trying to reverse.

A number of lizard species are classified  as ‘nationally critical’ on New Zealand’s official Conservation status list and native lizards are ‘absolutely protected’ under the Wildlife Act 1953 – from killing and injury.

As an Ecologist, ecological assessment of native geckos and skinks are a crucial component to consider during any ecological impact assessment.

When dealing with lizards, a Lizard Survey Permit must be administered by the Department of Conservation. Mark has received his full Lizard Surveying Permit; which allows him to catch, hold and release native lizards during ecological assessment.

FACTS:

  • New Zealand has more than 90 species of lizard.
  • We have geckos and skinks, and none are found anywhere else in the world.
  • All native lizards are fully protected.
  • At least three lizard species have become extinct in NZ
  • Another eight are extinct on the mainland and can only be found on predator-free islands
  • Almost half of New Zealand's reptiles are threatened or endangered
  • An easy way to distinguish a skint from a Gecko - skinks can blink. (Geckos can’t.)
  • The largest lizard in New Zealand is the Chevron skink which lives on the great barrier and little barrier islands and reaches sizes of 30cm from the nose to the tip of the tail

Mark enjoys the challenges and variety of his role.

“There is always the challenge of predicting what species will be at a site.  Sometimes I am surprise myself to find a species of lizard somewhere unexpected. My job involves being outdoors and working in amazing natural environments that these species inhabit – what’s not to love?”

You will find lizards almost everywhere in New Zealand, except the subtropical Kermadec Islands or the cold sub Antarctic islands; making Marks interaction with lizards more frequent than imagined.  

Aside to his frequent interactions with reptiles, Mark and our Environmental team remain busy with several projects throughout New Zealand.

“I am currently working on undertaking ecological surveys and assessing the impacts of various projects including: widening a road to improve access to Department of Conservation (DOC) tracks on the West Coast, building a bridge over a river in the Manawatu, building a landfill in the Bay of Plenty, building a cycleway in Waikato, upgrading/repairing seawalls in Canterbury, abstracting water from a large River in Wellington, and assessing and improving fish passage at sites in the Waikato and Taranaki”

Mark Youngnickle
Mark believes that healthy well-balanced ecosystems are important for biodiversity.

“When a species is endangered, it is a sign that the ecosystem is degraded and at risk of not only the species of concern, but also to the human health and other species.”

Kauaka e whakaiti tö tātou taiao – don’t belittle our natural environment.