Protecting New Zealand's rarest of the rare.

Ten Most Endangered  

With over 7,500 of New Zealand's plant and animal species currently in some danger of going extinct, it is imperative that we understand where help is needed most urgently. The Endangered Species Foundation has compiled a list of the New Zealand's Ten Most Endangered Species, ranked in order of those closest to becoming extinct. You can help to save the 'Rarest of the Rare', by becoming a Sponsor or Ambassador.

Click here to learn more about how this list was created.


1. Maui dolphin

The critically endangered Māui dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) is one of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins. An endemic sub-species closely related to the Hector’s dolphin, it is now found only in the shallow coastal waters off the west coast of the North Island.

Only between 55 to 63 Māui dolphins remain. Entanglement in fishing nets and debris, mining activity, boat strike, pollution and disease, together with natural factors, continue to pose real risks to the species' survival.  

Conservation measures have centred on restricting net-fishing methods, to varying distances offshore, between Maunganui Bluff in Northland and Hawera in South Taranaki. Seismic surveying operations are also regulated within the 2164 kilometre long Marine Mammal Sanctuary from Maunganui Bluff to Oakura Beach in Taranaki. Sea bed mineral mining is prohibited in parts of the sanctuary. A Research Advisory Group is investigating other conservation activities.

The next five to ten years are probably our last chance to save the Māui dolphin. The Endangered Species Foundation is assisting in investigating additional conservation initiatives.

​The Māui dolphin conservation factsheet (PDF 1.6MB) explains the threats to the dolphin's survival, current conservation efforts and what more needs doing.

2. Canterbury knobbled weevil

Thought extinct since 1924, the Canterbury knobbled weevil (Hadramphus tuberculatus) was rediscovered in 2004 by Laura Young, inhabiting golden speargrass in Burkes Pass, in the Mackenzie country of South Canterbury. 

This critically endangered weevil was once reasonably widespread in the Canterbury region (based on specimens collected over the last 120 years), but is now restricted to just one small area with a total population of less than 100 adults. 

Encouragingly, recent attempts by Lincoln University researchers succeeded in captive rearing Canterbury knobbled weevils. The Department of Conservation is also working on installing predator-proof exclosures at Burkes Pass to protect the remaining wild weevil population.

The Canterbury knobbled weevil conservation factsheet (PDF 2.8MB) tells how the fate of this species is closely linked to that of its host. It details current conservation effort, what more needs doing and how much it will cost.

3. Mokohinau stag beetle

The Mokohinau stag beetle (Geodorcus ithaginis) is one of New Zealand’s few remaining large beetles (25-32mm long). Known only from the Mokohinau Islands east of Auckland, it owes its name to the large antler-like mandibles on the head of male, which they are thought to use when fighting for mates.

Whilst we still have a lot to learn about the species, we know that it has disappeared from all islands in the area inhabited by rats. The last known population inhabits a living room-sized patch of iceplant on a small, rat-free rock stack in the island group which is highly vulnerable to storm damage.  

Though the beetles are difficult to rear in captivity, hopes for the survival of the species depend on increasing the size of the population through captive breeding, before translocating them to safer rat-free islands.

The Mokohinau stag beetle conservation factsheet (PDF 1MB) explains why this species is on the brink of extinction, what can be done to save it and how much it will cost.

4. Quillwort - Isoetes aff. kirkii

The critically endangered quillwort (Isoetes aff. kirkii) is a primitive aquatic fern endemic to New Zealand. It was historically found in several Northland lakes. It is now considered extinct in the wild, after it all but disappeared from its last known location at Lake Omapere, following a dramatic decline in water quality. 

Luckily, searches uncovered a few remaining plants, and 12 quillworts are now carefully tended in a NIWA aquarium. 

The Lake Omapere quillwort conservation factsheet (PDF 3MB) explains the rapid decline in lake water quality and how this impacted many species. It tells of how the local community has worked hard to restore the lake and what more needs doing to return this species to its former home.

5. New Zealand fairy tern

The critically endangered NZ fairy tern (Sternula nereis davisae) is the most endangered of New Zealand’s birds, with only about a dozen pairs surviving on beaches between Whangarei and Auckland.

The encroachment of human activity on their nesting grounds (often, popular beaches) is a major threat to these birds. Beach narrowing, mainly due to housing developments and weed invasion, forces the terns to nest closer to the sea, putting their eggs at risk during storms. Introduced predators and human disturbance also threaten nesting sites. 

An intensive conservation programme is underway to protect the NZ fairy tern, and has successfully increased the population from an all-time low in 1983 of just three or four breeding pairs. 

The NZ fairy tern conservation factsheet (PDF 5.2MB) details the threats facing the species, what's been done, what still needs doing and how much it will cost. 

6. Limestone cress

The critically endangered Limestone cress (Pachycladon exilis) has always been a rare herb, only inhabiting limestone outcrops in the South Island’s Waitaki Valley. Now it is found on just one limestone outcrop, where about 50 plants are known. The reasons why it is so endangered are unknown, but are likely to include predation by introduced animals such as white butterfly, snails, slugs, rodents and rabbits; shading-out by weeds, and a susceptibility to diseases and fungi introduced to New Zealand with cultivated brassicas. 

The Limestone cress conservation factsheet (PDF 5.3MB) explains how efforts are underway to protect several of the Waitaki Valley limestone outcrops by controlling weeds and erecting protective fences. Limestone cress is difficult to maintain in cultivation, but cultivated plants could be a source of seed for sowing at protected sites where it once occurred. Critical species protection work is detailed and costed.

7. Chesterfield skink

Research over the past two decades has discovered many new species of lizard in New Zealand. 

The critically endangered Chesterfield skink (Oligosoma aff. infrapunctatum) was discovered in 1994 near Chesterfield, between Hokitika and Greymouth, in Westland. It was officially classified as a distinct species in 2008.

Their numbers have decreased so much that few animals have been seen in the last five years, and a number of surveys have failed to find it elsewhere. The reasons why it is so rare are unknown, but much of its boulderfield habitat in Westland has been converted for farming. Introduced predators are also likely culprits, having been implicated in the disappearance of many species of lizard from much of New Zealand.

The Chesterfield skink conservation factsheet (PDF 3.1MB) details what can be done to save this species extinction, and how much it will cost. 

8. Coastal peppercress

The critically endangered coastal peppercress (Lepidium banksii) was only ever found around the Nelson coastline, from the Marlborough Sounds to Karamea. Despite much conservation effort, this exceptionally rare species has proved nearly impossible to conserve in the wild, and is now classified as "extinct in the wild".

Various diseases, fungi, insects and mammals have proved lethal to short-lived wild plants, and diseases are making it very difficult to maintain a captive population, meaning all surviving plants require constant care. 

The Lepidium banksii coastal peppercress conservation factsheet (PDF 3.4MB) tells the story of its struggle for survival, what can be done to save the species and how much it will cost.

9. Eyelash seaweed

The critically endangered eyelash seaweed (Dione arcuata) is a very unusual tiny seaweed, the size and shape of a human eyelash. 

This rare seaweed is very similar to some of the oldest known fossils of multicellular organisms - the common ancestor being in the distant past.

It is known only from New Zealand and is incredibly different from other related seaweeds - being genetically distinct from any other Bangia or Porphyra species from New Zealand or anywhere in the world. The simplicity of the seaweed's form – the lack of clear, obvious, distinguishing anatomical features – masks the genetic diversity within. 

This species was only known from two boulders, each at separate sites near Kaikoura where the 2016 earthquake lifted the seabed above sea level. Surveys are needed to determine whether or not the species still exists.

You can learn more about this fascinating species by reading the Eyelash seaweed conservation factsheet (PDF 2MB).

10. Dune swale daphne

Dune swale daphne (Pimelea actea) is a critically endangered New Zealand plant. It is a small shrub relative of daphne, that used to inhabit moist sand flats on the Manawatu, Whanganui and Christchurch coasts. 

Recently it has disappeared from all but one site where a few plants are thought to survive. The only plants in cultivation are descended from a few plants collected in 1991. 

Its moist sand flat habitat has been swamped by grasses and weeds, is frequently grazed by stock, and infested with rabbits and snails; all of which are probably reasons for its disappearance. Intensive management of its natural habitat is needed to allow this species to be reintroduced.

The Pimelea actea conservation factsheet (PDF 2.7MB) explains how this species has all but disappeared, what can be done to save it from extinction and how much it could cost.

How this list was created

The list was compiled in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC). We began by collating a list of all species currently recognised by DOC as critically endangered (the highest ranking given), together with species considered by experts to be of very high risk of extinction. We then selected the species that either have a high on-going or predicted decline, or very few individuals remaining.

We then removed those species which DOC considered to be secure because they are either found overseas, or are currently stable or increasing in numbers. We also removed those which are lacking in data. 

Finally, using information provided by species experts, the remaining species were ranked on:

  • number of individuals remaining
  • success of conservation programme to date
  • access to sufficient resources and tools
  • degree of conflict between resource users in the area.

Foundation Facts

  • Over
    endangered species
  • Just
    of our most critically endangered Māui Dolphins remain
  • Only
    species are currently in
    conservation programmes