Seafriends - Threatened species of New Zealand

Just how endangered is New Zealand's environment? The terrestrial species, living closest to mankind and his introduced pests, his destruction of habitats and his pollution, have suffered most. Some have declined or even become extinct from direct exploitation (the Moas) but their numbers are relatively few. By contrast, marine species have until now, suffered mainly from exploitation but not from extensive habitat destruction and the introduction of noxious animals. The marine environment appears to be more robust against complete extinction, but we don't know for sure. We know so little about the marine environment that we cannot say with certainty whether any species have become endangered, or even whether any species have become extinct.

In this article the status of endangered terrestrial wildlife in New Zealand is listed, as it was known by 1980.


The list of threatened species shown below was derived from the Nature Conservation Council's 'Red Data Book' published in 1981. (Gordon R Williams and David R Given).

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The endangered status of animals has been defined as in the table below:
status population comments
threatened (CT)
? A species whose survival is threatened by commercial exploitation or trade.
threatened (T) ? Species comprising several subspecies that are threatened in different ways and are thus placed in different categories.
insufficiently known (K) ? A species is suspected of being eligible for one of the categories below, but where lack of information makes confirmation impossible.
indeterminate (I) 0-10,000 The species is suspected of being endangered, vulnerable or even critical, but not enough data is available, either because it lives cryptically (hidden), or in places difficult to get to, or because no investigations have been made so far.
? The species is no longer able to fulfil its ecological role in its ecosystem. If it is a keystone species on which many others depend, it will bring major changes. In that case, many dependent species will also be endangered. 
rare (R) ? Rare species may not necessarily be endangered. They have evolved in ways to exist in small numbers spread far apart and over large areas, by for instance being able to reproduce asexually as well. Species are rare and endangered when their populations are in decline.
vulnerable (V) <10,000 The species is vulnerable because its natural gene pool is becoming rather small. Lack of genetic diversity is the threat. They are believed to become endangered if the cause of their decline is not removed.
endangered (E) <2,500 The species is in such small numbers that lack of individuals has become a threat. A breeding collapse due to lack of genetic diversity becomes a possibility. Survival is unlikely as long as the threats continue.
critical <250 The species cannot survive unnatural deaths or sudden adverse conditions and needs special care. At this level, the species can most likely no longer be saved. Extinction is only a matter of time. Only a major conservation effort like captive breeding and re-introduction can postpone extinction.
extinct (Ex) 0 It is hard to say when a species has become extinct. Some species such as the New Zealand kakapo, the flightless parrot, have been rediscovered. However, their numbers usually remain critical. Species living in the 20th century (from 1900 on) and now extinct, qualify. Species in zoos don't qualify either. In general, a species is considered extinct if there have been no definite reports for 50 years.

In the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals (world-wide) 1990, the following numbers of animals were listed: 698 mammals, 1047 birds, 191 reptiles, 63 amphibians, 762 fishes, 2250 invertebrates. It is estimated that 60,000 plant species are under threat of extinction or genetic degeneration.

International conventions

CITES. Convention on International Trade in endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Promulgated in 1973 to regulate international trade in species of plants and animals listed in three appendices:
  1. Appendix 1 lists species whose survival is threatened by trade. Special permits are required from both exporting and importing countries, and will be issued only in exceptional circumstances.
  2. Appendix 2 lists species that are likely to become endangered unless trade is regulated. Species that are difficult to distinguish from those threatened are also included on the list in order to close a potential loophole.
  3. Appendix 3 lists those species which any singatory to the convention considers are in need of regulation in areas under its jurisdiction, that is to say at the national as distinct from the international level.

ICRW. International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, 1946. Signatories agree to introduce international regulations for whaling to ensure that all cetaceans are protected from overfishing, that whaling operations are restricted to species able to sustain exploitation, and that provision is made for the recovery of depleted species, thereby ensuring the orderly development of the whaling industry. This convention led to the establishment of the International Whaling Commission.

RAMSAR. Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, 1971. The principal intergovernmental forum for promoting international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands.

ACCN. African convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 1968.

CMS. The bonn Convention  on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, 1979.


19970804 - Hooker's sealion has been declared a threatened species on Campbell and Auckland Islands. 10,000-15,000 left
Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Hector's dolphin 
Cephalorhynchus hectori
Coastal salt water, in bays and inlets. Competing with fisheries, dies in set nets 2500-3500 Vulnerable?
Hooker's sealion 
Phocarctos hookeri
Open ocean around Auckland Islands and Campbell Island Caught in trawl nets during squid fishing 10,000-15,000  Vulnerable

Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Southern short-tailed bat 
Mystacina tuberculata robusta
Lowland Podocarp-broadleaf & kauri forest Habitat destruction, rodents ? Indeterminate
Southern short-tailed bat 
Mystacina tuberculata tuberculata
Lowland Podocarp-Broadleaf and Kauri forest Habitat destruction , rodents 2000-4000  Vulnerable


Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Little spotted kiwi Apteryx owenii Small population on Kapiti Island Survives in the presence of rats 500-600 Endangered
Chatham Islands petril Pterodroma axillaris  Pelagic waters, Chatham Islands Unknown less than 500 Rare
Chatham Islands taiko Pterodroma magentae Steep scrub-covered slopes of S-Chatham Islands Hunted for food, habitat destruction, predators 25?  Endangered
Pycroft's petrel Pterodroma pycrofti  Not known. Is perhaps an immigrant. Breeds on Poor Knights Is to Stevensons Is. Unknown 500? Vulnerable
Little bittern Ixobrychus novaezelandiae Westland swamps and lagoons, little known Unknown. Has always been rare. ?? Extinct
Auckland Islands merganser (Sea-Goose) Mergus australis Shore-inhabiting, fish-eating sea duck, Auckland Islands  Unknown. Hunted for food, predators. None Extinct
Takahe Notornis mantelli Alpine tussock grasslands and fringing beech forest and scrub 600-1000m. It predominantly feeds upon and nests in certain species of the tussock Chionochloa. Pre-European reduction in numbers not sufficiently known, but recently predated by stoats, and habitat changed by deer. 200-250 Endangered
Chatham Islands oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis a sedentary species of rocky and exposed coasts on the Chatham Islands. Predation and food for Man. Threatened by introduced carnivores. about 50 Rare
Shore plover Thinornis novaeseelandiae It feeds in and around rock pools on exposed rocky shores of the Chatham Islands. It nests in vegetation of the supralittoral zone. On the mainland it also visits mudflats. By 1880 it had disappeared from the NZ mainland. Threatened by the Norwegian rat and feral cats. It survives on only one island of the Chathams. 120 Rare
Black stilt Himantopus novaezealandiae Breeds inland on shingly river beds in the middle of the South Island. A few migrate to estuaries in the North Island. Feral cats, ferrets and rats predate heavily on them during the breeding season. Drainage and hydroelectric development disturbs their habitat. 50 Endangered
Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Orange-fronted parakeet Cyanoramphus malherbi; the least known of all NZ species. Montane forest and scrub 300-800m. Very little is known about its feeding habits. Gradual decline over last century. Cause not known Introduced mammals suspected, but there is no convincing evidence. 5 in captivity Indeterminate
Antipodes Islands parakeet Cyanoramphus unicolor Tall tussock (Poa litorosa) and fern (Polystichum vestitum) where it feeds on leaves, seeds, berries and dead seabirds, mainly penguins. Shares habitat with the red-crowned parakeet. No threat as long as their habitat remains undisturbed or carnivores become introduced. The antipodes Islands are remote. Captive breeding of 20 birds.  2000-4000 Rare
Kakapo Strigops habroptilus, heaviest of all the world's parrots. Can't fly. Forest, scrubland and grassland 0-1200m. Predominantly vegetarian and nocturnal.  Habitat damage and destruction by Man, feral brosing and grazing stock. Predation by mustelids, rats and cats. 200
Stewart Island
Laughing owl, Sceloglaux albifacies. Not known well. It roosted in rock crevices and fed in open country and along forest margins. Presumably mammalian predators and habitat alteration. 0, not seen for 70 years. Extinct
Bush wren, Xenicus cinerea, X longipes, X stokesi, X variabilis. (4 subspecies) Tall mature indigenous forests & scrub, Stewart island. Feeding on foliage near the ground. Presumably predation by mustelids, rats and cats. 0 Extinct
Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Chatham Islands (black) robin, Petroica traversi. Dwells in forest and scrub, spending much time on the ground. Eats insects, particularly amongst leaf litter. Habitat alteration and destruction. Introduced predators. Burrowing of seabirds has changed the forest floor on Mangere Island. 9
An extensive rescue programme is in place
Stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta. Forest-dwelling. Feeds on nectar, fruits and insects. Lives close to the forest floor. Introduced carnivores, but the Little Barrier population survived in the presence of cats and Polynesian rats. a few 1000 Rare
Kokako, Callaeas cinerea cinerea. (and C. c. wilsoni, South Island) Middle to upper tiers of certain lowland forests, perhaps extending to subalpine scrub. Eats fruits. Habitat modification & destruction and carnivores. Disappeared from South and Stewart Island, but can still be found in the North Island. a few 100 of the
North Island race.
South Island race extinct.
Huia, Heteralocha acutirostris Mature montane forest of moderate altitude. Mainly insectivorous. It is possible that the diet of males differed from that of females because they had different bills. Collecting for cloaks and museums. Habitat destruction. 0 Extinct
Saddleback, Philesturnus carunculatus. (S.I.: P.c. carunculatur and N.I. P. c. rufusater) Middle and lower tiers of forest, foraging amongst leaf litter. Eats insects, fruits and nectar. Predation by rats. Disappeared from the three main islands. Now occurs on rat- and cat-free islands. Little Barrier, Cuvier Islands, and also on Tiritiri Matangi.  2000 (NI species)
300 (SI species)
Piopio (Native thrush), Turnagra capensis. (2 subspecies: NI T.c.capensis and SI T.c. tanagra) Tall mature native forest. Omnivorous, feeding from the forest floor. Norway rat and shiprat, and feral cats. 0


Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Gold-striped gecko, Hoplodactylus chrysosireticus. Indigenous forest, where the species dwells on the ground. Mainly nocturnal. Habitat alteration and destruction.  Some near N Plymouth. 70 captive. Indeterminate
Harlequin gecko, Hoplodactylus rakiurae. Sub-alpine scrub and exfoliating granite outcrops. Terrestrial and nocturnal. Presumably cats and rats. Population probably stable. No reliable estimate.
3 captive.
Stephens Island gecko, Hoplodactylus stephensi. Remnants and fringes of coastal forests and scrub. Nocturnal. Reduction of habitat by fire and grazing and browsing domestic stock. No reliable estimates. Vulnerable
Robust skink, Cyclodina alani. Low coastal forest vegetation. Sheltering under rocks, plants and petrel burrows by day. Feeding on insects and crustaceans by night. Preyed upon by rats. Survives on rat-free islands. Low
<10 captive.
MacGregor's skink?. Cyclodina macgregori. Coastal vegetation, living in leaf litter, under rocks and logs and around seabird colonies. Cavalli Islands, Sail Rock, Mana Island. Unknown. Abundant on Sail Rock. Vulnerable
Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Whitaker's skink? Cyclodina whitakeri. Coastal vegetation. Unknown. Could be a relict of previous NI distribution. Collecting. Habitat destruction. Survives in Pukerua Bay. Very low Vulnerable
? Leiolopisma gracilicorpus. Unknown. Early reports state it was living in trees and could swim. Unknown No data Vulnerable
Grand skink, Leiolopisma grande Little known, but probably surviving in schist outcrops in undeveloped tussock grasslands in rather arid areas. Diurnal. Otago. Unknown, but habitat destruction suspected. very low.
<10 captive
Great Barrier skink, Leiolopisma homalonotum. Predominantly lowland forest. forages on the forest floor, frequently alongside streams. Shelters in burrows and root tangles. diurnal. Great Barrier Island. Habitat destruction and carnivores. very low.
10 captive.
Otago skink? Leiolopisma otagense. Rocky outcrops and mountain scree. Marlborough to Otago. Habitat burning and grazing, mammalian and avian carnivores. Collecting.  Low
50 captive.
Striped skink, Leiolopisma striatum. Lives in standing rotting timber and epiphyte platforms of indigenous trees and in rotten logs. Hibernates in mud near swamps. Eats insects and is diurnal. Clearing and felling indigenous forests. Collecting. Numbers are dwindling. Good numbers in only one locality. Vulnerable


Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Archey's Frog, Leiopelma archeyi. Under stones or logs in indigenous forests or in open indigenous subalpine grassland on mist-shrouded mountain ridges 200-1000m.Feeds on insects and other invertebrtes. Nocturnal. Coromandel Peninsula. Unknown. Habitat modification. Where found, may reach 1/10m2.
Hamilton's frog, Leiopelma hamiltoni. A boulder bank on Stephens Island (600m2) covered with grasses and vines at 270m. Maud Island: a 15ha remnant of coastal forest at 100-300m. It eats insects and other invertebrates by night, sheltering under rocks and plant cover by day. Surviving only on predator-free islands. 100 Stephens I,
1000 Maud I.
Hochstetter's frog, Leiopelma hochstetteri. Under stones or vegetation alongside cool, clear, shaded forest creeks up to 800m. Carnivorous and nocturnal. East Cape, Coromandel, Waikato to Whangarei. Unknown. Habitat destruction. some 1000s
<30 captive

Freshwater fish

Species Habitat Reason for decline Population Status
Giant kokopu, Galaxias argenteus. Variable habitat with plenty of cover in the water. Swamps, swampy streams, gravelly streams, some lakes. Not far from the sea. Chatham, Great Barrier, Little Barrier Islands. Young migrate to the sea. Drainage of swamps, clearance of native vegetation, competition with brown trout. Maori food. No data. Indeterminate
Shortjawed kokopu, Galaxias postvectis. Pools with thick cover in small streams in unmodified native forest. Widely distributed. Young fish go to sea. Clearance of native forest. Unknown Rare
Canterbury mudfish, Neochanna burrowsius. Very slow-flowing, winding, swampy streams with deep pools. Concealing vegetation. Nocturnal and can aestivate in mud during droughts. From 500 years ago, changes in climate and vegetation. Channeling and draining. Habitat destruction for agriculture. a few 1000s Rare
Black mudfish, Neochanna diversus. Among sphagnum in small water-filled depressions in peat. In small numbers also in swampy boggy creeks. NI Waikato River, northward.  Drainage of swamps and clearance of native forests. No data Indeterminate
Grayling, Prototroctes oxyrhynchus. Shoaling in stony-bottomed rivers and streams, mostly near the sea, probably spending part of its life at sea, then migrating upstream to spawn. Omnivorous but eats algae too. Perhaps declining already before Man arrived. Otherwise habitat destruction and competition with introduced trout. None Extinct


The plant species have not been included on this page. 66 species were listed in 1981.


Statistics derived from the Red Data Book
The following table lists the critical status of endemic species only.
Critical status of endemic animal species in New Zealand
Class  Endemic Species Extinct  Endangered Vulnerable  Rare  Indeterm
Mammals 2 - - 1 - -
Birds 75 6 6 2 6 1
Reptiles 40 - - 6 3 2
Amphibia 3 - - - 3
Fish (Fresh water) 20-25 1 - - 1 3
Totals 41/145=28% 7 6 9 13 6
Critical status of endemic plant species in New Zealand
Class  Endemic Species Extinct  Endangered Vulnerable  Rare  Indeterm
Monocotyledons ? - 4 6 - -
Dicotyledons ? 4 32 19 1
Totals % 4 36 25 1 -

The World Conservation Union (IUCN=International Uniton for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Committee) lists New Zealand among the five worst countries with threatened birds as a percentage of total number of native bird species exceeding 15%. The other 4 countries (Philippines, Mauritius, Madagascar, Hawaii) are all island nations like NZ. It shows that we have to be much more cautious than nations that are part of continents.


The summary below lists the causes of  the decline in native animal species. Most animals declined due to a combination of causes. Remarkable is the high score for the unknown category. Habitat destruction and predation rate very highly.

18 Unknown
20 Habitat destruction
10 Predation by rats (brown rat, Norwegian rat, Polynesian rat)
14 Predation by other introduced carnivores (stoat, cat, dog)
  3 Predation by/ competition with introduced trout
  1 Human interference
  2 Human food
  2 Feral browsing introduced species (deer)
  3 Collecting
  3 Fire/tree felling
  3 Always been rare

The following summary lists the causes of the decline in native plant species. Most plants declined due to a combination of causes.

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