© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Lyttelton's lizard removal project kicks off

George Clark
The Waitahi gecko  Department of Conservation

Gecko from the get-go for Lyttelton Port

35 native Canterbury gecko are now roaming free in Riccarton Bush after large-scale removal from Gollans Bay Quarry in Lyttelton.

70 more will be released by the end of the week.

The Lyttelton Port Company chose to relocate the geckos with help from the Department of Conservation (DOC), as planned development of a new container terminal begins to keep up with shipping demands. 

Dr Graham Ussher and his team from RMA Ecology set artificial habitats at key locations around the quarry to safely capture the geckos last week.

“Although Riccarton Bush is different to the habitat from which they will be captured, we expect that they will do just fine – they are hard-wired to use a range of habitats,” Dr Ussher says.

Riccarton Bush was chosen because it has 7.8 hectares of established forest surrounded by a state-of-the-art pest- and mammal-proof fence that keeps out predators such as rats and cats.

Gollans Bay Quarry development
Gollans Bay Quarry Development Department of conservation

DOC’s Community Ranger Rachel Brown says a similar release of geckos was done in 2012 as part of the Sumner Road recovery project.

Small radio transmitters were placed on 19 of the relocated geckos, which showed they were moving around the forest.

All New Zealand geckos are fully protected, meaning they may only be handled under permit. It is illegal to deliberately harm them.

Canterbury Native Gecko 

  • Scientific name: Woodworthia cf. brunnea

  • Common name: Waitaha gecko

  • Bio status category: Indigenous (Endemic)

  • NZ threat classification: Declining


  • Brown, grey or olive with paler bands, blotches or stripes that are usually bright, and large blackish patches (especially on the intact tail).

  • Mouth lining pink, tongue pink with grey tip.

  • Eye greenish, brown or yellow and often very large.

  • Measures 53-80 mm from snout tip to vent.

  • Lifespan can exceed 36 years.