When I first left Maryland in December and arrived in Tasmania, I opened a gift from my youngest students in JE Missy/Kalli. It was a set of “I wonder…” sticks, each with a question that I tried to answer based on the observations I had made and things I had learned so far. Here are some answers to these questions again, this time from a New Zealand perspective.
Noah wondered if I was seeing any trash. Since we’re talking about New Zealand, I’ll first have to change the word “trash” to “rubbish,” which is what they call it here. In Tasmania, I rarely saw trash along the roads or the beach, but I was living in a very remote place far from any town. Here in New Zealand, I live in a city where there are many more people to create more rubbish. They do have free recycling and rubbish pickup (it’s spelled “kerbside” instead of “curbside” here), but if you want to take things to the landfill, or “tip,” you have to pay a fee. Most people are very responsible about not littering. Rubbish does often wash up on beaches, though. One of my favorite experiences picking up rubbish in New Zealand was when I was on a horse-riding trek on the South Island. We were riding along a deserted beach, and we kept finding plastic items, like bags and bottles, that had been washed up by the waves. We didn’t have any rubbish bags with us, so we just tied the things onto our saddles and carried them back to the farm with us. The horses didn’t seem to mind. That was a fun Tuesday Rubbishday!
Parker wondered if I would see a new animal. Just as it was in Tasmania, almost every animal I see here in New Zealand is new to me. There are a few, like sparrows and monarch butterflies, that are the same species that we have in Maryland, but New Zealand has many kinds of animals that are found nowhere else in the world. The tuatara is one of my favorites. It is a reptile that looks like a lizard, but it isn’t a lizard. It is in its very own ancient group. Tuatara nearly became extinct after humans arrived in New Zealand and brought animals like rats and cats here, which hunted them. After working very hard to save them and raise new tuatara on protected islands, they are being brought back to the mainland and released in sanctuaries. There is one place – Zealandia – where I can see tuatara regularly, hanging out by their burrows. Some of them are marked with colored beads to identify them. There are now lots of baby tuatara that have hatched and are setting up their own territories. This is great news for a very cool reptile!
Andrew wondered if I would see a new snake. Do gummies count? If I saw a live snake in New Zealand, I would probably become famous, because no snakes are allowed in New Zealand – ever. Not even in a zoo. Snakes have never lived here, so if they somehow were brought here and got loose, they would hunt small reptiles (like the tuatara) and birds that have no protection from them. So snakes are banned from New Zealand, and every time I see an S-shaped stick and excitedly think, “Snake!” I remind myself that I will just have to wait until I get back to the United States.
Maggie wondered if I would see a baby animal. Now that it is the middle of autumn here, most wild baby animals in New Zealand are pretty well grown up. The baby animals that I’ve most enjoyed watching grow in New Zealand are called shags (or cormorants). There is a colony of shags nesting in the Zealandia sanctuary, and I have been able to watch them raise babies from hatching out of their eggs until they fledge, or leave the nest. Watching the parents feed the babies is lots of fun! The parents go out and dive for fish, come back to the nest, and the babies beg for them to open their mouths and then dive right in! Here are some videos: a newly hatched chick playing with a stick, and some older chicks getting fed.
Missy wondered if I would try a new food. From Tasmania, I shared some wild foods that were new to me, and I have found several here in New Zealand as well. One is horopito, a very spicy, peppery leaf that is used in traditional cooking. Another is kawakawa – both its leaf and fruit are edible, and have been used as medicine.
Jack wondered if I would get hurt. Since I have just mentioned eating wild plants here, this is a good time to say that some plants in New Zealand are VERY poisonous to eat! I was taught about the kawakawa by an expert, so I felt safe trying it, but there are other plants that would indeed hurt me if I ate them. One of them is a plant called tutu. Tutu’s poison is so strong that it once killed an elephant that was accidentally fed some leaves.
Nick wanted to know if I would see a koala bear, and Cailin wondered if I would see a tiger. Unlike Australia, there are no native mammals in New Zealand except for bats. There are plenty of mammals that have been brought here and either released into the wild, like rabbits, hedgehogs and possums, or are kept as livestock or pets, like cattle or cats. But no koalas or tigers, except for the ones at the zoo!
Let me know if you have any new questions!
Here is one for you:
What is that creature at the top?