Publishing data on NZ herpetofauna

Suggestions for researchers publishing data (or otherwise publicly releasing data) on New Zealand herpetofauna

In recent decades illegal collection for the pet trade (more commonly referred to as poaching or smuggling) of New Zealand herpetofauna has emerged as a significant threat to some species and populations. There are now over a dozen known cases and multiple species have been targeted and successfully removed from NZ. This includes most of the Naultinus species, Harlequin geckos, and a selection of our Woodworthia and Mokopirirakau geckos. In addition, skinks have also been collected on at least 3 occasions and tuatara may be a target. Those undertaking such activities often search for information on site localities online. As such, it is paramount that researchers working on herpetofauna that are (or may potentially become) vulnerable to population decline from illegal collection take care with the information they publish or release publicly. It is important that researchers (field ecologists, university students, university staff, and others) carefully consider what level of detail needs to be published or released. For example, avoiding publishing/releasing exact GPS co-ordinates is recommended. For green geckos (Naultinus) and our rarer alpine geckos (e.g. Takitimu gecko) extra caution should be taken. A balance may need to be struck between providing data that are still informative, but not giving too much away. For example, referring to a mountain range rather than the individual mountain may be an appropriate compromise between restricting the information available to smugglers without losing too much information of interest to the reader from the paper, report, or thesis. For New Zealand herpetofauna, when publishing data, or releasing data on-line or in other public forums, please consider the following:

  • Avoid publishing/releasing accurate site maps or exact GPS co-ordinates for all species. Be vague about site information wherever possible (if appropriate, consider providing instead a statement about where more detailed information can be obtained by bona fide researchers).
  • Where landowner permission is obtained, report more accurate site information to the Department of Conservation to be incorporated into the DOC Herpetofauna database (which has restricted access and is only available to bona fide researchers).
  • Take extra care with information on species known to be targeted by smugglers (or likely to be attractive to them).
  • Avoid linking site locations with photographs posted online e.g. on social media
  • Be careful who you discuss site information with and make sure others assisting with, or involved in your project, fully understand the need to be careful with site information.
  • Ensure that the GPS function on your camera is turned ‘off’ before taking photographs (look in your camera settings) and especially before posting photographs online (look under properties on your photo). Otherwise the photo and location where it was taken can be linked.
  • Do not post photographs online that show herpetofauna potentially vulnerable to illegal collection along with recognisable landforms in the background e.g. mountains, buildings etc.

Examples of New Zealand papers where site information is made less specific are:

  • Knox C. D. 2010: Habitat requirements of the jewelled gecko (Naultinus gemmeus): effects of grazing, predation and habitat fragmentation. MSc thesis, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. 107 pp.
  • Knox C. D., Cree A., and Seddon P. J. 2012: Direct and Indirect Effects of Grazing by Introduced Mammals on a Native, Arboreal Gecko (Naultinus gemmeus). Journal of Herpetology 46(2): 145–152.
  • Knox C. D., and Monks J. M. 2014: Penning prior to release decreases post-translocation dispersal of jewelled geckos. Animal Conservation 17:18–26


The below papers provide good further reading on this topic:

  • Auliya, M., et al. 2016. Trade in live reptiles, its impact on wild populations, and the role of the European market. Biological Conservation 4, 103-119.
  • Lindenmayer, D. & Scheele, B. 2017. Do not publish: Limiting open-access information on rare
and endangered species will help to protect them. Science 356(6340), 800-801.
  • Lowe, A.J. et al. 2017. Publish openly but responsibly. Science 357(6347) 141-142.