[Federal Register: January 7, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 4)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 692-694]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AD06

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status 
for Brother's Island Tuatara

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final Rule.


SUMMARY: The Service determines endangered status for the Brother's 
Island tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri), a reptile of New Zealand. Although 
already legally covered by an endangered classification, this species 
previously was considered part of the related and more widespread 
tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus. Both species are threatened by various 
factors, especially predation from introduced rats. This rule continues 
the protection of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), 
for the Brother's Island tuatara.

EFFECTIVE DATE: February 6, 1998.

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this rule is available for public 
inspection, by appointment, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through 
Friday, in Room 750, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia 
22203. Express, messenger-delivered, and regular mail should be sent to 
the Office of Scientific Authority at this same address.

Dr. Charles W. Dane, Chief, Office of Scientific Authority at the above 
address (phone 703-358-1708; FAX 703-358-2276).



    Tuataras are a unique group of lizard like reptiles now restricted 
to New Zealand and represented by the single genus Sphenodon. Because 
of excessive human hunting and predation by introduced animals, 
especially rats, tuatara are now found only on various small island off 
the coast of the two main islands of New Zealand. For many years, the 
prevailing view among zoologists was that the living tuataras 
represented only the single species Sphenodon punctatus, and that was 
the only species on the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
(June 2, 1970; 35 FR 8495).
    A recent paper (Daugherty. C.H., A. Cree, J.M. Hay, and M.B. 
Thompson, 1990. ``Neglected taxonomy and continuing extinctions of 
tuatara.'' Nature: 347:177-179) pointed out that, based on a 
morphological and genetic analysis, a second species. S. guntheri. 
survived on North Brother Island in Cook Strait. S. guntheri actually 
had been first described in 1877, but over time had come to be regarded 
as just a component of S. punctauts. The population of tautara on North 
Brother Island was known at the time that S. punctatus was listed as 
endangered pursuant to the Act and was considered to be a population of 
S. punctatus. The recognition of S. guntheri as a distinct species may 
provide it with increased conservation attention, thereby helping to 
ensure its continued survival on the one small island from which it is 
known. This listing also will reduce the likelihood of someone assuming 
that the species is not protected and perhaps unintentionally illegally 
trading in the species.
    The above technical paper explaining the status of S. guntheri was 
only recently brought to the attention of the U.S. Fish and wildlife 
Service (Service) through the kindness of Ms. Cheri L. Hosley of 
Brownstown, Michigan. Subsequently, the Service contacted several 
authorities, who supported recognition of S. guntheri as a distinct 
species, and also the Government of New Zealand, which responded 
favorably. Finally, the World Conservation Union's 1996 IUCN Red List 
of Threatened Animals designates S. guntheri as a full species, with a 
classification of vulnerable.
    The above information persuaded the Service of the need to 
distinguish S. guntheri as a separate species on the List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife and to classify it as endangered, together with 
S. punctatus. A proposed rule to such effect was published in the 
Federal Register of January 26, 1995 (60 FR 5159-5162). All interested 
parties were requested to submit information that might contribute to 
development of a final decision. A cable was sent to the United States 
Embassy in New Zealand, requesting new data and comments of the 
Government of New Zealand, which again responded favorably. No other 
responses were received. It is emphasized that the reptiles included 
within the originally listed taxon S. punctatus (now divided into S. 
punctatus and S. guntheri) were already legally covered by an 
endangered species classification and will remain so

[[Page 693]]

under this rule. This rule does not impact or otherwise change the 
status of either species and does not affect the kinds of activities 
that are permitted or prohibited. It is intended to eliminate confusion 
by bringing the listing status of the species into conformity with 
current taxonomy.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    After a thorough review and consideration of all scientific and 
commercial information available, the Service has determined that the 
Brother's Island tautara should be classified as endangered. Section 
4(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and 
regulations (50 CFR part 424) promulgated to implement the listing 
provisions of the Act were followed. A species may be determined to be 
endangered or threatened due to one or more of the following five 
factors described in Section 4(a)(1). These factors and their 
application to the Brother's Island tauatra (Sphenodon guntheri) are as 
follows (information from Daugherty et al. 199, as indicated above):

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of its Habitat or Range

    Sphenodon guntheri is known only from North Brother Island in Cook 
Strait, New Zealand. The island has an area of only about 10 acres (4 
hectares), and the tuatara population is restricted to only about 4.2 
acres (1.7 hectares) of scrub habitat on top of the island. The 
population consists of fewer than 300 adults. Introduced rats, rabbits, 
goats, and other animals have damaged habitat of other tuatara 
populations and could potentially do the same on North Brother Island.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Not currently known to be a problem. However, automation of the 
island lighthouse in 1990 led to departure of the resident keepers who 
had deterred illegal landings and poaching for 123 years. The very 
small tuatara population could thus be vulnerable to human hunting and 

C. Disease or Predation

    Predation by introduced rats, dogs, cats, and pigs have been severe 
problems for other tuatara populations. Deliberate or accidental 
introduction of even a few such animals on North Brother Island could 
be disastrous for the tiny tuatara population there. Departure of the 
lighthouse keepers and failure to recognize S. guntheri as a unique 
species warranting special conservation attention could open the way 
for such a disaster.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Although all tuataras have long received complete legal protection, 
there has been no recognition of separate, highly restricted species or 
subspecies, such as S. guntheri, that might require special protection 
and management to survive. The departure of the lighthouse keepers from 
North Brother Island in 1990 has made S. guntheri especially vulnerable 
in this regard.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting its Continued Existence

    Small and restricted animal populations, especially if adversely 
affected through human activity, are highly susceptible to natural 
disasters and to reduction of genetic viability.
    The decision to determine endangered status for the Brother's 
Island tuatara was based on an assessment of the best available 
scientific information, and of past, present, and probable future 
threats to this species. It occurs in very small numbers in a highly 
restricted range and is vulnerable to a variety of problems. If this 
reptile is not given appropriate recognition and protection, extinction 
will become more likely. Critical habitat is not being determined, as 
such designation is not applicable to foreign species.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened pursuant to the Act include recognition, requirements for 
Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. 
Recognition through listing encourages conservation measures by 
Federal, international, and private agencies, groups, and individuals.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, and as implemented by 
regulations at 50 CFR part 402, requires Federal agencies to evaluate 
their actions that are to be conducted within the United States or on 
the high seas, with respect to any species that is proposed or listed 
as endangered or threatened and with respect to its proposed or 
designated critical habitat (if any). Section 7(a)(2) requires Federal 
agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out 
are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed 
species or to destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a 
proposed Federal action may affect a listed species, the responsible 
Federal agency must enter into formal consultation with the Service. No 
such activities are currently known with respect to the species covered 
by this rule.
    Section 8(a) of the Act authorizes the provision of limited 
financial assistance for the development and management of programs 
that the Secretary of the Interior determines to be necessary or useful 
for the conservation of endangered species in foreign countries. 
Sections 8(b) and 8(c) of the Act authorize the Secretary to encourage 
conservation programs for foreign endangered species and to provide 
assistance for such programs, in the form of personnel and the training 
of personnel.
    Section 9 of the Act, and implementing regulations found at 50 CFR 
17.21, set forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that 
apply to all endangered wildlife. These prohibitions, in part, make it 
illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States 
to take, import or export, ship in interstate commerce in the course of 
commercial activity, or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign 
commerce any endangered wildlife. It also is illegal to possess, sell, 
deliver, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken in 
violation of the Act. Certain exceptions apply to agents of the Service 
and State conservation agencies.
    Permits may be issued to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving endangered wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations 
governing such permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.22. Such permits are 
available for scientific purposes, to enhance propagation or survival, 
or for incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful activities. 
In addition, regulations on general permit procedures and on the 
importation, exportation, and transportation of wildlife are codified 
at 50 CFR parts 13 and 14.

National Environmental Policy Act

    The Service has determined that an Environmental Assessment, as 
defined under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969, need not be prepared in connection with regulations adopted 
pursuant to Section 4(a) of the Endangered Species Act, as amended. A 
notice outlining the Service's reasons for this determination was 
published in the Federal Register of October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Required Determinations

    The Service has examined this regulation under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act of 1995 and found it to

[[Page 694]]

contain no information collection requirements.

    Author: The primary author of this rule is Ronald M. Nowak, 
Office of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Washington, D.C. 20240 (phone 703-358-1708).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation, Wildlife.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the 
Code of Federal Regulations, is hereby amended as set forth below:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Section 17.11(h) is amended by revising the entry for 
``Tuatara'' under REPTILES and adding an entry for ``Tuatara, Brother's 
Island'' to read as follows:

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        Species                                                    Vertebrate                                                           
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special  
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules   
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened                                                           
                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  
                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  
Tuatara..........................  Sphenodon punctatus.  New Zealand........  Entire.............  E                     3. __           NA           NA
Tuatara, Brother's Island........  Sphenodon guntheri..  New Zealand (N.      Entire.............  E                     3. __           NA           NA
                                                          Brother Is.).                                                                                 
                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  

    Dated: October 30, 1997.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 98-246 Filed 1-6-98; 8:45 am]