Top 10 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 by making a donationClick here to learn more about how this list was created.

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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.  

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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. 

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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.  

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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.

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