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Threatened species

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Aotearoa New Zealand has many threatened species such as kākāpō. Image: Wildlife Hospital Dunedin.

Native species of Aotearoa are taonga. In te ao Māori, taonga applies to anything treasured or prized including things of social and cultural value. Our native birds, lizards, bats and invertebrates like wētā are a part of our national identity and are part of what makes us unique.

Aotearoa New Zealand is an internationally recognised ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity. Our long isolation from other land masses, as well as our variety of ecosystems, have allowed unique plants and animals to develop. Today, many of New Zealand’s native species are classified as threatened, meaning they’re at risk of becoming extinct soon.

What is a threatened species?

When a species drops to very low numbers or lives in just one place in the wild, it is threatened, and it may become extinct.

The Department of Conservation DOC has developed a threat classification system so that it can help the most endangered species. The most threatened species are described as nationally critical.

Threat classification in Aotearoa New Zealand. Image: DOC.

Threatened species have the greatest risk of extinction and include:

  • Nationally Critical: most severely threatened, facing an immediate high risk of extinction.
  • Nationally Endangered: facing high risk of extinction in the short term.
  • Nationally Vulnerable: facing high risk of extinction in the medium term.
  • Nationally Increasing: small but increasing population still facing a risk of extinction in the medium term.

At Risk

At Risk species aren’t considered ‘Threatened’, but they could quickly become so if not enough conservation work is done, if a new threat arises, or if numbers continue to decline. At risk species include those that are:

  • Declining: population declining but still moderately common.
  • Recovering: population increasing after previously declining.
  • Relict: small population stabilised after declining.
  • Naturally Uncommon: naturally small population and therefore susceptible to harmful influences.

Why do species become threatened?

It is natural for species to slowly die out. But humans have caused huge changes in a short time. The main activities that threaten species are:

  • destroying habitats through activities such as developing land for housing, farming and polluting waterways and the air.
  • bringing in weeds and pests
  • over-harvesting, for example fish or birds

Human impact in Aotearoa New Zealand

New Zealand’s plants and animals evolved free of many predators. When people arrived, they brought rats and other predators that killed animals and ate plants. Many species became extinct or rare. This continues today.

Hoiho are endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand and one of the rarest penguins in the world. Image: Wildlife Hospital Dunedin.

Native or endemic?

Aotearoa has many endemic species. These species are not found anywhere else in the world. This is not the same as being ‘native’. A species is native if it is naturally found in a place, but it may be found in more than one country. For example, the pūkeko is a native species in Aotearoa New Zealand, Europe, India and Asia, but the kākā is endemic, we only find kākā in Aotearoa.

Threatened native animals

Aotearoa New Zealand has a high number of threatened bird species including kākāpō, kea, kiwi, takahē and hoiho. Some marine mammals, bats, frogs and fish are also threatened.

The Wildlife Hospital in Dunedin treats many threatened species every year.

Complete the Threatened species quiz >

> Go to the DOC website to find out more.

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