New Zealand lizards are a unique group of reptiles which can be very rewarding to keep and breed in captivity. However, they are legally protected wildlife so you will require an authorisation from DOC, and cannot collect them from the wild.
New Zealand lizards held in captivity are not domesticated and should be regarded as 'captive wild animals.' Keeping these animals entails responsibility for reporting requirements under your DOC authorisation. Most New Zealand lizards can live many decades, and should do in captivity with proper care.
Legal Protection / Permits
Prior to 1981 New Zealand lizards were unprotected and many were captured from the wild by enthusiasts for captive collections. During the 1960's and 1970's more attention was given to this poorly known group of New Zealand fauna, and in 1981 the Wildlife Act 1953 was extended to grant full legal protection for all native lizards except a few of the more common species (forest geckos, common geckos, common skinks and copper skinks). In 1997 full legal protection was extended to also include these common species (note that these species are now considered to be declining in the wild).
Under section 3 of the Act, all New Zealand lizards (geckos and skinks) are now 'absolutely protected wildlife', this means they must not be collected from the wild, handled or disturbed, or held in captivity without a permit from the Department of Conservation.
Subsequently, New Zealand lizards which were collected from the wild pre-1981 have been kept and bred in captivity under permits / authorisations from the Department of conservation. Authorised holders (keepers) can only obtain captive-bred lizards from others with the relevant permit, and lizards are passed between holders for free, as it is illegal to buy or sell protected native wildlife.
The Department of Conservation provides a 'general authorisation' which allows several of the more-common native geckos currently in captivity to be obtained from other authority holders and held. After gaining the required experience (3 years), authorised holders can apply to DOC for an authorisation to hold other species. An application requires demonstration of good husbandry and preparedness.
For further information on authorisations / permits to keep New Zealand lizards in captivity click on the following link: Authorisations / Permits
Keeping NZ Lizards
With the right enclosure and set-up (how the enclosure is furnished), many New Zealand lizards can be relatively easy to maintain and breed in captivity. The key to successful husbandry is to 'take care of the lizard's environment and they will take care of themselves.' Providing these animals with the conditions they need to thrive involves allowing them the appropriate variation in climatic conditions (sun, shade, dry, humid, warm, cool) so that they can choose for themselves where they need to be.
It's also important to keep in mind that these are wild animals which are held in captivity, so it is recommended that you research the ecology of a given species before taking on any lizards. Understanding where these animals choose to live, and how they interact with their environment (and each other), will inform prospective keepers about what conditions they need to thrive, not just survive in a captive environment.
Check out our Herpetofauna section to find out more about the ecology of New Zealand's native lizards.
Not all species of New Zealand lizard are present in captivity, but you can find information about the captive requirements for several species which are in our Reptile Care Guides
For further information on housing and taking care of NZ Lizards in captivity check out the following links:
- Reptile Care Guides
- Health and Diseases in native reptiles
- Identification and Record-Keeping
- DOC Guide to keeping NZ lizards in captivity