Dog with an eye for native lizards

03 Mar 2012

Lizard expert Marieke Lettink wouldn’t be half as successful at finding skinks and   geckos without her beautiful assistant.
She’s trained Manu – a six-year-old border collie-cross – to sniff out the lizards that aren’t so easy for even an expert lizard scientist to see.
At the BioBlitz at Denniston Plateau, Manu found a rare West Coast green gecko on Saturday and a striped forest gecko on Friday afternoon. "I'm so happy to find this gecko with my dog. For me this is the holy grail."

Forest geckos are found in other parts of New Zealand but the Denniston variety has unusual stripes the length of its body.
Marieke has trained Manu to sniff out lizards in low shrubs and under rocks, which are well hidden from human eyes. She doesn’t attack the lizards but – as an eye dog – simply stares at them once she’s discovered them.
The Denniston Plateau is a great haven for lizards. “Denniston Plateau is functioning like a mainland island because rats and possums are in low numbers,” Marieke says. The alpine conditions are too harsh for predator populations to grow rapidly, but the lizards have adapted over thousands of years.