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The Waitoreke, also known as the Waitoreki, Waitorete, Kaureke and Kaurehe, is a small otter like creature thought to live mainly on the South Island of New Zealand. Leading Maori anthropologist Sir Peter Buck has stated that the name Waitoreke is ungrammatical and presumably nonsense, however some have suggested possible meanings of the name. Most researchers agree that the Wai component is from the Maori word for water, it is the rest of the name the draws some controversy. Some believe that toreke translates to the bone spurs, which would mean the name translates into, water animal with spurs. Others believe that toreke or toreki may be a South Island variation on torengi, which means, to disappear, which would mean the name translates into, disappear into water.

What makes sightings of the Waitoreke so strange is the fact that New Zealand is one of the few significant land masses on Earth to have no known native land mammals. The South Pacific nation does have several native species of seals and sea lions, as well as bat species but is most known for its abundance of bird species that seem to have evolved on the island without the restrictions of a mammalian predator population.

The lack of mammals on New Zealand can be traced back to the islands separation from the super continent of Gondwanaland, made up of Africa, Antarctica, Australia, South America, India, Madagascar and New Zealand. Gondwanaland along with its counterpart Laurasia, the Northern Hemisphere, once joined to form the Mega Continent of Pangaea. As the tectonic plates shifted these two land masses began to drift apart, over time the continents which made up these two super continents also began to drift apart. Roughly 80 million years ago New Zealand separated from Gondwanaland along the edge of what would become Australia.

Since New Zealand separated from the super continent almost 50 million years before Australia would, the fauna developed differently and are much different than each other. Animals that did migrate to the island of New Zealand would do so on wings, over time as New Zealand drifted further from the main land the bird population which migrated back and forth was cut off and left to evolve in isolation. In the same sense mammals, other than bats, were cut off from the island leaving it with out any known mammal species.

It was not until humans began to arrive on New Zealand that the animal diversities began to grow. With the arrival of the Maori, some time between 1000 to 2000 years ago, the Polynesian Rat and the Kiore were introduced to the ecosystem, as were dogs. Later when explorers like Captain James Cook arrived in the 1700’s livestock and other foreign animals were introduced. Today there are many mammals present in New Zealand, including several species of deer, wild hogs, wallabies, possums and quolls just to name a few. These new inhabitants now threaten the original animals and have even caused the extinction of some species.

One of the first documented accounts of a strange mammal like creature living in New Zealand comes from the logbook of Capitan James Cook. Upon entering Pickersgill Harbor in 1773 aboard his ship, the Resolution, Cook reported the sighting of a four legged, cat sized animal, with short legs and tawny colored fur. One of the mariners who also saw the animal was of the opinion that it had a distinct jackal like look with a bushy tail. When Captain Cook questioned his naturalists about the creature, which they had not seen themselves, they proposed it may have been some type of fox or more likely one of the vessels cats that had somehow managed to get ashore.

The 1840’s brought sightings of a beaver like creature in the Lake Hawera District of the South Island. This animal apparently built a dam very small in style to European Beavers.

Walter Mandel, the son of Naturalist Gideon Mandel, mailed his father a report of an animal that the natives called a Kaureke, a quadruped that was the size of a cat, short legged and also having a bushy tail; it apparently laid eggs and was prized by the natives. Wanting to procure the hide of one of these animals, Mandel offered a reward for one of these creatures dead or alive. Regrettably the team of Maori who ventured off to capture one of these animals returned empty handed.

Von Haast wrote to a fellow naturalist, a man by the name of Hochstetter, in 1862 stating that he was thoroughly convinced that animals similar to otters were populating the South Island waterways, as he would often come across tracks of what appeared to be a web footed mammalian animal along the mud banks of the Ashburton River.

Sightings of the creature dropped to almost none after the late 1800’s, that is until 1968 when on otter like animal was spotted leaving the Stevenburn Stream near the Whakea River in the Southland District. The animal reportedly checked the area as it emerged from the stream, then signaled to three other semi adult individuals which followed her up the bank and disappeared into the undergrowth. 1971 brought another report this time in the Hollyford River area, a hunter heard splashing as he neared the river, upon investigation he saw an animal very similar in form to an Otter scaling the river bank and sliding back down again as if it were playing. He witnessed this performance for about 15 minutes before the animal left.

Based on several eyewitness descriptions of the creature investigators have suggested four main theories as to what this creature may be. The first, and the most popular, of these theories suggest that the Waitoreke is a form of river otter. Reported sightings of the creature often point out several physical characteristics which are very otter like, however the fact remains that no known species of mammal is known to be indigenous to New Zealand.

A second theory suggests that the Waitoreke is a form of beaver as some sightings indicate the presence of dam like structures in the rivers and lakes of New Zealand. Again we must look at the fact that no known mammals are known to be indigenous to New Zealand and it is highly unlikely that any explorer or ship would have brought a creature such as the beaver with them on long voyages.

A third theory which as been presented is that the Waitoreke is a possible form of piniped, marine mammals that include seals, sea lions and walruses. Their distributions are worldwide, and of all the theories presented this one seems to hold the most water. These mammals are already living along the coasts of New Zealand and if one were to find its way up the rives and streams of New Zealand, possibly to a location where people may not be familiar with them as those who live along the coast it may appear to be something new. This theory however does not explain sightings which include animals with 4 legs or the findings or webbed footprints as these creatures do not have legs but instead have flippers.

The fourth theory presented to explain sightings the Waitoreke is that these are actually sightings of a Monotreme, egg laying mammals, similar to Australia’s platypus. Some reports of the Waitoreke do state that these creatures lay eggs and as some translations of the name may suggest the Waitoreke had some form of bone spur, a feature which is present on the webbed feet of known species of Monotreme. But that seems to be where the similarities end and the similarities we have listed above are based off sightings and no physical evidence.

But is there any physical evidence of the Waitoreke’s existence at all? Sir Julies von Haast reportedly obtained the pelt of a Waitoreke in 1868. It was in poor shape, but is described as brown with white spots lacking webbing between the toes. Unfortunately this does not offer definitive proof for the existence of the Waitoreke. In all likelihood the skin was of a variety of quoll, which were released in New Zealand in 1868. The quoll are carnivorous marsupials from Australia of which all known species have a brown coat and distinguishing white spots on their skin.

Track finds are the next and final form of physical evidence. Although circumstantial, they do offer some important clues. Tracks found in the Taieri Plain swamp are described as being webbing and roughly the size of a matchbox. Sir Julias von Haast had stated that that the stride of the Waitoreke was seven to eight inches. Of all the animals theorized as the possible cause of Waitoreke sightings, the track which have been found seem to point toward that of the otter or beaver.

So the question of just what the Waitoreke remains unanswered. Even after looking at the various theories we are no closer to a solid conclusion. Characteristics match those of various known animals, but not all characteristics match one specific animal. Of all the animals evaluated, the otter seems to be the best fit. The behaviors described such as sliding and diving are characteristic of the otter. The physical descriptions closely match the otter more so than the other animals theorized. The habitat also closely matches that of known fresh water otters, with tunnel systems for living and the ability to travel long distances over land.

The native people often describe two separate animals, one amphibious and the other land dwelling. This also matches the otter closely as they tend to travel in both water and on land, in addition the musk reported on several occasions also matches that of an otter. Vocalizations, such as those reported by Ferdinand van Hochstetter, also seem match the otter, which is capable of a wide range of guttural sounds.

It is a fact that early mammals were present prior to New Zealand separating from Gondwanaland. These include some early monotremes and placental mammals. Through evolution of a convergent species could have also arisen in New Zealand to fill in an ecological gap. Additionally some of the reports could be misidentifications of known animals. Small fur seals could have been misidentified and been the reports of the Waitoreke along the coastal areas. Another possibility is that the early reports, prior to the 1800's, are those of something unknown, but the more recent ones are most likely of an escaped animal kept captive during colonization of New Zealand by the Europeans.

So, if an alien species was released in the 1800's then more recent sightings may be associated with such an animal. We know that many animals were introduced into New Zealand, including ferrets, weasels and stoats, all of which show similar characteristics associated with later Waitoreke reports. If the species released shared a similar ecosystem as the Waitoreke it could be this animal may have caused the original identity of the Waitoreke to go extinct. Thus this new alien species takes over the ecosystem and throws another twist on the tale of the Waitoreke.

The Evidence
Physical evidence of the Waitoreke’s existence is generally limited to mammalian like webbed footprints sometimes found on the muddy shores of several of the South Island’s rivers. Other than these footprints, and a questionable pelt, there is little physical evidence to support the existence of a creature like the Waitoreke living in New Zealand, and with the introduction of many species of mammals since the early 1800’s we may never know exactly what the Waitoreke was.

The Sightings
In 1773, a four-footed animal was seen by three or four men belonging to the crew of Captain James Cook; but as no two men gave the same description of what they saw Cook could not guess what the animal was. All, however, agreed that it was about the size of a cat, with short legs, and of a mouse-color.

The 1840’s brought sightings of a beaver like creature in the Lake Hawera District of the South Island. This animal apparently built a dam very small in style to European Beavers.

In 1957 a woman saw an animal near the Aparima River that was described as having small pop eyes and flat round ears. The neck was hidden, had fur like a cat and short whiskers on its face.

1968 when on otter like animal was spotted leaving the Stevenburn Stream near the Whakea River in the Southland District. The animal reportedly checked the area as it emerged from the stream, then signaled to three other semi adult individuals which followed her up the bank and disappeared into the undergrowth.

In 1971 a hunter, familiar with NZ wildlife, watched an animal slide down a bank of the Hollyford River for a period of about fifteen minutes. This animal was described as smooth, short brown fur, small head with no visible neck or ears, tapering thick tail, and was 3 to 3.5 feet in length.

The Stats – (Where applicable)

• Classification: Lake Monster
• Size: Roughly that of an otter
• Weight: Roughly that of an otter
• Diet: Unknown
• Location: New Zealand
• Movement: Swimming and four legged walking
• Environment: Lakes, rivers and streams