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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Tiaki. A shout-out to Aotearoa’s lesser-known creatures by Jean Donaldson

In Tiaki Jean Donaldson has combined her passion for conservation and her talents as a digital painter to raise awareness about the myriads of Aotearoa’s weird and wonderful lesser- known creatures which are on the brink of disappearing forever. We must act now to save them as they are the foundation of New Zealand’s unique and diverse ecosystem.

She has aimed Tiaki at intermediate-age children and teenagers. Her beautiful digital paintings and engaging text are bound to draw them in.

Ever heard of a barking gecko, or a frog who can’t croak, or the only bird in the world with a bent beak? You’ll find them in here. There are facts too about their habitat and the threats they face such as introduced predators, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change.

At the beginning of her book is a lengthy list of species: bats, frogs, skinks, geckos, and birds which are known to be extinct. It is a big wake-up call to see how many we have lost!

Seventeen creatures are featured in Tiaki. The cover picture is of the Hura te ao gecko which was first discovered in 1918 in alpine greywacke rock outcrops in two mountain ranges in North Otago. Other creatures too also recent finds. The Cobble skink was found living behind a pub in Granity on the West Coast of the South Island in 2007. And the candy-cane coloured Cylix tupareomanaia, a small pipehorse, was first discovered in 2017 in the waters of Te Tai Tokerau/Northland. There may well be a great many more creatures which are yet to be discovered.

You are most unlikely to catch sight of the Smeagol gravel maggot, a slimy wormlike creature, as it lives 30-50 cm underground, feeding on nutrients from decaying seaweed. It looks revolting but we must cherish it as it is one of the most endangered marine invertebrates in Aotearoa.

Two winners of the Bird of the Year/Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau, a national competition) are featured, although one of them, the critically endangered Pekapeka-tou-roa, the long-tailed bat, is a mammal, not a bird. This caused quite a stir at the time, and I have to admit I didn’t vote for it, but it won! Maybe because it’s so cute and tiny. It weighs only about the same as a tablespoon of butter.

This year’s winner Pīwauwau, the rock wren, whose name means complaining little bird, is also critically endangered. But some are managing to survive the freezing temperatures in the Southern Alps. Jean’s illustrations of this little bird are just beautiful, and it is worth buying her book just for these. The matte paper the illustrations are printed on really contributes to the classy feel of this book.

I think Tiaki is a stunning and inspirational debut by a talented young conservationist and deserves a place in school libraries and in the homes of all nature loving families.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Potton & Burton


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