(by Simon Petrie, September 2010)


With its habitat already vulnerable to hydroelectric dams, highway construction, irrigation and mining practices, there are now fresh concerns that the iconic South Island taniwha, T. waipounamou, is at risk from an even more acute threat: an invasive introduced species. Darryl Maitland, a spokesman for the Ministry for the Environment, announced yesterday at the Queenstown launch of the Save The Taniwha! campaign that three of the region’s smaller lakes appear to have fallen victim to incursion by the West Australian bunyip, a species believed to have been first introduced into Fiordland via the bilgewater vented from a visiting Australian vessel some two decades ago. The relatively rapid spread of the larger, more aggressive, and reputedly venomous Australian creature poses a grave risk to wildlife in the region, most directly the taniwha itself but including also many other endangered species.

While local hunting groups have called for the immediate introduction of a ‘Bunyip Bounty’, the MfE has solidly rejected the notion, stating that “there are extreme difficulties in correctly distinguishing between a juvenile bunyip and an adult taniwha, and we are therefore concerned that the promise of a bounty for bunyip carcasses would merely serve to exacerbate the problems currently faced by the taniwha.” Pressed for alternative strategies to safeguard the taniwha, such as an accounting of the revenue already raised through pre-subscription to the Save The Taniwha! fund, Mr. Maitland stated that the problem was inherently complicated, and that there were no easy answers. He closed the campaign’s launch with the declaration that “just as the tuatara is our country’s sole remaining connection to the Age of the Dinosaurs, the taniwha is our last surviving link to the Age of Monsters, and it would be a tragedy of the profoundest proportions if it were to disappear on our watch.” Further initiatives would, he assured, be forthcoming.

In the meantime, holidaymakers across the southern half of the South Island are urged to employ renewed vigilance around bodies of freshwater, and to refrain from swimming in waterholes.


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