Zealandia is a nature sanctuary with a difference. The vast majority of the creatures within it are free to roam around where they wish, all species together in the same enclosure, where we humans can walk among them. All predators are kept OUT. How? With a great big mammal-proof fence!
So in Zealandia, mammals are the enemy! And this 2m-high fence is extremely effective at keeping them out. This photo shows the maximum jumping heights of the most common predators:
So the fence is highly effective, but not 100% infallible. Occasionally a live rodent does find its way in, for example if accidentally dropped by a bird passing overhead. Traps therefore still need to be set, and control boxes scattered around the park provide information about which creatures have been in to visit (see the different tracks, below).
Also – tiny flaw in the plan – birds can fly! Of course they can’t be contained by a fence. Apparently there’s an issue with one particular bird at the moment: the hihi. Juveniles are developing a tendency to stray, and often fall prey to some creature or other once they have left the safety of Zealandia – they’ve never learned to be wary. Some, however, do return safely.
Overall, Zealandia has made a fantastic start on a project set to last 500 years – that’s how long it’s likely to take until the area is 100% restored to the way it was before Man arrived. Just over ten years have elapsed so far since the start of the project, and already you really do see and hear dozens of native birds there. It’s funny, but when I entered, the sounds all around me made me think immediately of Jurassic Park – strange bird calls I had never heard before, but which seemed to belong to a different era altogether.
Here are some of the creatures I saw on my visit! First a little cluster of green geckos – these were in a glass tank for us tourists to see, not scampering around freely. A number of them ARE in the forest though, and I saw signs asking visitors to note down the location of any they happen to see, and let the staff know! I looked hard but didn’t see another... never mind. I think they’re lovely!
The info sheet handed to visitors entering the park includes a very handy “who’s who” of a number of animals and birds that we might see – I know this one is illegible but you get the idea.
I saw lots! Nine on this sheet and one or two others I couldn’t identify. That was my reward, I guess, for staying for hours, stopping frequently to listen and look, and wandering along some of the less obvious tracks (but still nowhere near the longest – the place is huge!).
Now this next guy is very special – for me it was the star of the day, the creature I most wanted to see in the flesh: a tuatara! A tuatara is like a living dinosaur. Sometimes they don’t move for days. Don’t eat for weeks. There’s more information in these pics (to save me typing!) – here’s hoping you can read them....
There were also lots and lots of ferns in the park – my favourite plant :) As a species they’re even older the tuatara: the reptiles date back 190 million years, while the earliest ferns appeared around 360 million years ago. They evolved before plants even HAD flowers, or seeds... and there are so many varieties. Viva the almighty fern!