Three Otago skinks and five grand skinks from the high country near Wanaka were released into a predator-proof enclosure yesterday on the outskirts of Christchurch as part of a breeding programme.
The $100,000 purpose-built "skinkery" is part of Isaac Wildlife Trust's 1000-hectare Peacock Springs Wildlife Park at McLeans Island.
Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said the skinks' move was a major step for the critically endangered species, which were among New Zealand's largest lizards.
"Survival of these skinks is just as precarious as kakapo and takahe; more fragile than kiwi," she said.
It was hoped the lizards would eventually be released back into the wild.