For 70 million years, New Zealand has been completely separate from all other landmasses. We've been left with a few pretty strange creatures as a result: four flightless birds - the kiwi, weka, kakapo, and takahe - along with an ancient reptile (the tuatara), directly descended from the dinosaurs. The kiwi, of course, has been embraced as a national symbol, so much so that many New Zealanders are quite happy to be called Kiwis themselves. And that odd spiky "lizard," the tuatara, is being encouraged to breed itself silly in captivity to ensure it will be around for future generations to marvel at.

Apart from that, we don't have anything very exciting in the way of wildlife. New Zealand has no native mammals. It was the first Polynesian settlers who brought in both the dog and the rat. Captain Cook then arrived with pigs, goats, fowl, and probably more rats. As more foreign animals were introduced, it became necessary to bring in other animals to control those that had become pests. We now have more than 33 introduced species of mammals, 34 species of birds, 14 species of freshwater fish, at least 1,000 species of introduced insects, plus an Australian lizard and frog or two. Unfortunately, a good many of the above are pests, especially the opossum, which eats its way through frightening quantities of our forests every night. Oddly, while we in New Zealand are busy trying to eradicate this Australian native, in Australia they are busy protecting it.

The good news is, we have no nasties - no snakes, predatory animals, or deadly critters of any kind. The only one that comes close is the poisonous katipo spider, which you're unlikely to even see, unless you're on the western beaches of the North Island and spot a small black spider with a bright red stripe on its abdomen. There are sometimes sharks in the waters around New Zealand, though, so be sure to ask the locals about this, even though shark attacks are rare.

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