Important protection work at Te Waihora

Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere is populated by a large variety of birds, reptiles and insects the survival of which is often threatened by predators.

Kaitorete Spit, for example, is home to two endemic moths – the Kupe’s Grassmoth (Kupea electilis) and the Kaitorete Jumper (Kiwaia jeanae). Both are ranked by the Department of Conservation as “Nationally Endangered”.

Protecting the local wildlife from predators is part of the kaupapa for Whakaora Te Waihora, the joint restoration programme led by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury.

Programme Implementation Manager David Murphy says this work is critical to the success of Whakaora Te Waihora due to the crucial role migratory and indigenous wildlife plays on the ecosystem surrounding the lake. “Some great work is being led by the Department of Conservation to deal with stoats, rats, hedgehogs and wild cats,” David said.

Brian Patrick, a leading Lepidoptera expert living at Birdlings Flat, is committed to exploring Kaitorete Spit and beyond in search of rare and elusive moth species. He shares this fascination with his son Hamish, a PhD student at Lincoln University.

Until 2012, a female Kupe’s Grassmoth had never been seen - until Brian and Hamish tracked one down.

The female Kupe’s Grassmoth is short-winged and flightless, while her male counterpart has limited ability to fly. Both genders are well camouflaged in their sandy, cushionfield habitat in the back dunes of Kaitorete Spit.

The second endemic moth Brian has been studying, the Kaitorete Jumper, acts much like a flea. It is usually found in the dry undisturbed cushionfield areas of Kaitorete Spit. This moth is much more widespread than Kupe’s Grassmoth.

Brian helped Department of Conservation staff set up a monitoring protocol for both species. Their main threats are weed invasion, disturbance of fragile back-dune habitat by recreational vehicles, development of the area’s private land and predators.

Trapping sites have been set up for predators of the many valuable species around the lake, including at Kaitorete Spit.  Another site, at Harts Creek, has a variety of possum and predator traps designed to protect native birds.

This project is particularly focused on protecting Australasian bittern, an endangered species in New Zealand. The predator trapping and bittern monitoring at Harts Creek is funded by Environment Canterbury’s Biodiversity Fund.

At the Kaitorete Spit site, a predator trap line has been set up to protect the four species of lizard found there as well as birds and endemic moths.

Anita Spencer of the Department of Conservation said that while it is too early to give detailed results from the predator control programme, there have been some positive preliminary results.  

“There has been a considerable increase in the number of spotted skinks – considered Nationally Vulnerable – around Kaitorete Spit since predator control was set up in 2012,” Anita Spencer said. “This work will continue and we hope the predator prevention programme will allow species such as the spotted skink to continue to flourish on Kaitorete Spit and elsewhere.”


Whakaora Te Waihora is a cultural and ecological restoration programme for Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, led by Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury. Go to www.tewaihora.org for details.

For more on the rare moths and wildlife protection:



For more on Kaitorete Spit: