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New Zealand’s most vulnerable native species have a new protector, with the launch this week of the Endangered Species Foundation.

ESFNZ2The Foundation aims to create a $30 million endowment fund for front-line conservation projects.

At the Foundation’s launch, Chairman Kerry Prendergast said New Zealand has thousands of incredible native species that are in real danger of extinction.

“There are more than 4000 species currently endangered in New Zealand, and only 250 of them are currently in conservation programmes. There’s a great need for this organisation, if New Zealand is to protect its most vulnerable indigenous species and habitats from extinction.”

Mrs Prendergast said the Foundation would focus on the “rarest of the rare”.

“It’s not just the pretty ones that need protecting,” Mrs Prendergast said. “The Endangered Species Foundation is committed to focusing support where it’s most urgent, rather than on what has the most public appeal.”

Endangered species: ESFNZ Chair Kerry Prendergast and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry with a very special tuatara. Almost invisible to the eye at the top of the Minister’s glove is a Maud Island frog.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry launched the Foundation at the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, and said that initiatives such as the Endangered Species foundation gave her heart for the future of conservation.

”It is not always just about raising money, raising awareness is at least as important, putting the right people in touch with each other, celebrating and thanking conservation leaders from all walks of life, and providing high-quality information that makes the challenge of managing these highly endangered species easier.

“It gives me hope for the future when we focus our attention on plants and animals, especially those that are the most critically endangered, and, along with DoC, we all combine our efforts and our talents to turn around the tide of threatened extinctions.”

The Foundation was conceived when Dr Mike Thorsen, a botanist and ecologist, and his father Neil Thorsen, an experienced manager of philanthropic trusts, were discussing how a shortage of funds hampered the conservation of endangered species.

“We thought ‘could we raise a million dollars for endangered species conservation?’ and we came to the conclusion it shouldn’t be too hard,” says Dr Thorsen.

In 2012 the pair started to put the idea into motion.

“When we started we just made one ‘small’ change to the original plan. We decided to aim to raise $30 million over five years instead of $1 million,” Dr Thorsen says.

“People and businesses saw the merit of the idea and now there’s a very diverse group who have pitched in to help. Today the public are being given the chance to themselves help to save a unique piece of New Zealand from extinction,” he said.

The foundation has already received more than $1million in donations, and is about to start fundraising in earnest assisted by a network of ambassadors. The work of the foundation is supported by companies and experts donating their time and resources.

“We have just a part-time support officer which ensures that nearly all money raised goes directly to conservation projects, with the fund administered by New Zealand’s most experienced fund managers,” said Dr Thorsen.

Neil Thorsen says that from his experience, the endowment fund will grow significantly over the generations.

As well as officially launching the foundation, the Foundation released a list of the ten most endangered species in New Zealand.

This list is the most comprehensive and up to date in the country.

“ESFNZ’s scientists worked with species experts and used the very latest data to provide what is the most accurate list available. The species in the list will, if nothing is done, become lost forever,” Mrs Prendergast says.

“In some cases it will cost less very little to save a species.  Donors have a real opportunity here to leave a legacy of a whole species for generations after you to enjoy.”