Insiders' guide to wildlife in New Zealand
New Zealand’s wildlife is more than just the animals that live here. It’s part of our culture, our responsibility, our history, and our future.
In many ways, the kiwis and other New Zealand animals are much like the Kiwis themselves – rare, diverse, enterprising, and all sharing this isolated land we call Aotearoa together.
Here’s a quick overview of the wildlife of New Zealand.
To be endemic for a species means to only exist in one certain place. New Zealand’s endemism is one of the highest in the world.
This includes the whitehead, a pale grey bird about the size of a sparrow that you’ll only find in dense forestland in the North Island. There is also the rifleman, a green bird considered to be New Zealand’s smallest. Plus, New Zealand is the only place you will find the rare stitchbird, a curious and vulnerable little bird only seen around the North Island and some smaller islands such as Great Barrier.
The Kereru – also known as the New Zealand pigeon – is the country’s only seed disperser, which means that to lose this gorgeous green and cream bird would be a great loss for our bushland. The fantail is another endemic bird you might see on our tours, as it’s very popular, very social, and very chatty.
Then of course, there is New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi. We are lucky enough to see kiwis on approximately 70 per cent of our day tours from Auckland, there are five varieties including the North Island brown kiwi, great spotted kiwi, little spotted kiwi, the rowi and the tokoeka.
There are more than 70 species of weta in New Zealand, and all of them are endemic. There are five broad groups, including the cave, tree, ground, giant and tusked weta. While they may look a little scary, many weta species are endangered.
Another of New Zealand’s endemic icons is the tuatara, the last living member of the Sphenodontia family, which was around in the time of the dinosaurs. The tuatara once lived throughout New Zealand but now only inhabits a few dozen offshore islands in the wild.
New Zealand has only two species of endemic mammals, and they are both bats. They are the long-tailed bat and the lesser short-tailed bat, and are both known as pekapeka in Maori. Unfortunately, a third species, the greater short-tailed bat has recently become extinct, as it was last seen in 1967.
Fauna and flora that has naturally arrived in NZ but can also be found elsewhere is known as native.
The pukeko – sometimes unkindly known as the ‘swamp hen’ – is very common throughout the country, and as such, is something of a national icon.
New Zealand’s only surviving native owl is the morepork, one that we regularly enjoy seeing on our night tours to Tawharanui.
Introduced species are those that have been brought to New Zealand, and still live in other parts of the world. They are also known as ‘exotics’.
There have been 144 species of introduced birds to New Zealand since 1840, and just 33 of these species remain today. This list includes the Californian Quail, the starling, goldfinch, crimson rosella, pheasant, chaffinch, and more.
Some introduced mammals include red deer, chamois, tahr, sambar deer and fallow deer.
Many introduced species, such as stoats, hares and possums, have irreversibly damaged the country’s birdlife, and pest control efforts are in place to help ensure they don’t cause a single further extinction.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist