Waitoreke: Wikis


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(Maori Otter, New Zealand Otter, Kaureke)
Grouping Cryptid
Country New Zealand
Region South Island
Habitat Water

The Waitoreke (or Waitoreki, Waitorete) and/or Kaureke (or Kaurehe) is an otter/beaver-like cryptid said to live in New Zealand. It is usually described as a small otter-like animal that lives on the South Island of New Zealand. There are many theories on the waitoreke's true identity, such as it being an otter, beaver or pinniped.



The origin of the name "Waitoreke" is not well-documented; it may have been an invention. It does not occur in Tregear's fairly comprehensive Māori dictionary of 1891, and was said to be "ungrammatical" by leading Māori anthropologist Te Rangi Hīroa.

Despite this, etymologies have been put forward by researchers:

  • "Wai" is from the Māori word water. This is generally agreed upon; wai or variations thereof are the universal term for "water" in Polynesian languages (Tregear 1891).
  • One of the theory is that "to reke" translates to "the (bone) spurs", ie. "Waitoreke" = "water (animal with) the spurs". Reke is a specifically Māori term denoting a spear thrust or hair that has been tied into a protruding knot (Tregear 1891).
  • toreki is South Island Ngāi Tahu dialect (see also Mantell account below) of "torengi", and sometimes taken to mean "to disappear". Thus "Waitoreke" = "disappears (into) water". According to Tregear (1891), torengi might conceivably used signifying "to disappear", but the disappearing act has to be due to being left behind by someone. The meaning may have changed with the dialect; the alternate translation "water (animal) that was left behind by someone" (i.e., introduced by humans) is as plausible (or implausible).
  • Wai means "water", the following syllable to links the word to the spiritual world and the rest of the word means "to disappear". Therefore the translation might be "a disappearing water spectre" (Becker, 1985; cited in Mareš, 1997) - for the Māori it was the most common animals which played significant roles in their lives, unlike Europe, where the criteria for turning an animal into a mythological creature was its rareness.
  • A final one is that "toreke" may be a distortion by the Māori of a foreign (Asian/Arab) name for the animal.

Since European settlement (late 18th century onwards) the animal has also been referred to as the "New Zealand otter", "Māori otter", "New Zealand beaver", "New Zealand muskrat" and "New Zealand platypus" based on various accounts and theories.


The pelt reputedly obtained by von Haast is described as patterned similar to this Eastern Quoll's.
The Common Brushtail Possum - like the smaller thin-tailed Common Ringtail Possum - lives in trees.

The waitoreke is usually described as a small otter-like creature sometimes as big as a cat. It is described as having brownish fur and short legs. The sightings usually place the creature near or in the water on the South Island of New Zealand. Its fur is described as being short like that of an otter.

Very little physical evidence proving the existence of the waitoreke exists. Julius von Haast is reported to have obtained a waitoreke pelt in 1868. The fur was brown, with white spots, and the toes lacked webbing. This is inconclusive evidence; the pelt seems to have resembled a quoll's. Quolls are sometimes claimed to have been released in New Zealand in 1868[1] but this appears to be in error. The Common Brushtail Possum was successfully introduced in 1858 and is now a widespread pest, whereas introduction of the Common Ringtail Possum ultimately failed. Both animals are unspotted.

Whilst little evidence is found of these creatures, the same could be said about moose in Fiordland. If they can remain hidden for year a small creature like an otter certainly can.


"Evidence" for the existence of the Waitoreke is mainly based on sporadic accounts of an "unidentified amphibious animal" in the country's South Island spanning well over 200 years. Some of the more infamous accounts are dubious and/or incongruous - but a significant number of descriptions (particularly from the late 19th century onwards) share a striking similarity to each other and to species known to exist outside New Zealand. The Māori people said that in old times they used to keep waitoreke as pets (Mareš, 1997).

Some of the most notable early (claimed) accounts come from pre-20th Century explorers/naturalists:

  • Captain James Cook - Dusky Sound - 1772. A disputed account, of which multiple conflicting versions exist.
  • Walter Mantell - various - first half of 19th Century(?), Temuka location: "He informed me that the length of the animal is about two feet from the point of the nose to the root of the tail; the fur grisly brown, thick short legs, bushy tail, head between that of a dog and a cat, lives in holes, the food of the land kind is lizards, of the amphibious kind, fish - does not lay eggs." Recorded in an interview with "Tarawhatta" (=? Arawhata) of the "Ngatomamoes" (= Kāti Mamoe lineages of the Ngāi Tahu). The date is variously given as 1838 or 1848 in secondary sources.
This description is strongly reminiscent of a Common Brushtail Possum which despite being primarily arboreal sleeps in burrows or dens. It usually forages in trees but this is more subject to food availability than a genuine preference of this voracious and quite indiscriminate carnivore. They have wreaked havoc among New Zealand's unwary reptiles and (often semi-terrestrial) birds). While the introduced species seems a near-perfect match, it is not known to have been established until 1858; it was numerous enough to be encountered in many places from 1860 at the earliest.
  • Reverend Richard Taylor - various - first half of 19th century and perhaps earlier. In his 1855 book Te Ika a Maui.
  • Julius von Haast - various - 19th Century. As quoted in Alfred Brehm, Brehms Tierleben, chapter Monotremes: "Another interesting creatures among the most primitive mammals is the only indigenous New Zealand mammal, waitoteke (sic!), an otter-like animal which has been seen several times, once from such a short distance that it was hit with a whip, but then it disappeared in the water with a very brittle sound. Jul. v. Haast saw its tracks in the snow. Yet no-one was able to catch the animal so far. It is thought that this mammal is more primitive than Monotremes and will put some new light upon the ascent of the class which ends with the Man." As quoted in Hochstetter's New Zealand: "My friend Haast wrote me about vaitoteke (sic!) on June 6, 1861: ´3500 feet above the sea level I found, on the upper part of Ashburton river (South Island, Canterbury province), in a part of the country which no man has ever visited before me, its tracks. These are similar to those of an otter, only a bit smaller. However, then animal itself was observed by two gentlemen who own a sheep farm near Ashburton 2100 feet above the sea level. They described the animal as being dark brown, the size of a big rabbit. When hit with a whip, it made a whistle-like sound and disappeared in the water.´"

Later accounts come from a variety of settlers, farmers, trampers, hunters, tourists and scientists throughout the 20th century.


The majority of the evidence about the waitoreke is from sightings. However some alleged physical evidence does exist. Several unidentified tracks have been found. They were described as being a few inches long and showing webbing. Otter footprints show a little webbing but beaver footprints show full webbing. In 1868 Julius von Haast obtained an alleged waitoreke pelt. It was in very bad condition and was not conclusively identified. Described as being brown and having white spots, it seems to have approximately that of quolls which are not (and apparently were never: Antoni & Wodzicki 1984) present in New Zealand.

New Zealand mammals

The Waitoreke would be most remarkable if it exists, due to the fact that New Zealand is one of the few significant land masses on Earth to have no native land placental mammals. The South Pacific nation does play host to several native pinnipeds (seals, sea lions) and bat species (genus Mystacina) but is most notable for its plethora of bird species that seem to have evolved without the restrictions of mammalian predation: flightless species that would have been fair game for any hunting mammal were most plentiful, and there were even some tiny flightless passerines - a thing almost unheard of, and certainly unknown in the presence of mammalian predators as small as shrews.

New Zealand's dearth of mammals is a result of its separation from the super-continent of Gondwana approximately 80 million years ago, in the Cretaceous epoch. Recent discoveries in an Otago fossil lake bed suggest that small non-flying mammal-like animals (and crocodilians for that matter) existed in New Zealand before human settlement[2].

While there was most likely some sort of mammalian creatures on New Zealand at the time of separation, and certainly in the Miocene, placental mammals - and probably even monotremes - were almost certainly not present. The Otago creature, living some 19-16 million years ago in the Burdigalian, was tentatively placed with proto-mammals. It is somewhat more similar to groups such as triconodonts and the enigmatic and possibly cold-blooded Mesozoic Hadrocodium from China, but whether this denotes a true relationship is unknown.

Theories on identity

Despite the lack of fossils, and/or confirmed proof in the form of a living specimen, theories on the Waitoreke's identity include:



An escaped or new species of otter is the most likely candidate for the waitoreke. Most of the sightings resemble an otter. Also, the majority of the sightings are near water where otters are most often found. If an otter is a waitoreke it is most likely a river otter. The otter would most likely be brought to New Zealand on boats although it could have swum across the ocean. However the theory that it swam is unlikely.


Another common theory is that the waitoreke is actually a beaver. This is because several of the sightings report that the waitoreke lives in dams like those of a beaver. The fur color of a beaver is also close to that of the description of a waitoreke. However, the body shape and the tail structure of a waitoreke are different than that of a beaver. If the waitoreke was a beaver it would most likely be introduced by European settlers and would then be related to the European beaver.


Another one of the theories is a pinnipeds. Pinnipeds are marine mammals in the superfamily pinnipedia. Examples are seals, sea lions, and walruses. Pinnipeds are native to New Zealand so that makes it a good candidate for the waitoreke. The New Zealand sea lion is one of the pinnipeds native to New Zealand. It is about 5–8 feet long and the males have a brownish coat and the females are gray. Another candidate is the New Zealand fur seal. It is slightly smaller and has a brown coat.


A monotreme is an egg laying mammal. This theory is because there have been some reports that the waitoreke lays eggs. Known monotremes are the platypus and the two types of echidna, which are all native to Australia. The description of the echidna differs from the common description of the waitoreke. The platypus is more like the description of the waitoreke but still different. A new type of monotreme is also possible.

Other theories

These are other theories on the identity of the Waitoreke. They are less common then the theories mentioned above, but have been put forward because of the animals similar appearance to the waitoreke, or for other reasons.

Theories on the animal's identity based on zoogeographic conjecture continue today, but most serious cryptozoologist/Waitoreke enthusiasts admit that the most likely scenario for the animal's coming-to-be in New Zealand would be by way of human introduction. Whether this be by ancient Asian seafarers - or by early European settlers - is more debatable.

If the Waitoreke were found to exist, it would have fascinating implications for our view of New Zealand natural and/or human history. Its implications for mammal phylogeny or the seafaring history in the South Pacific can only be imagined. With the discovery of a Miocene mammal in New Zealand, the possibility that the waitoreke is based on folk memory of such animals which - except on New Zealand - are not known to have survived the Grande Coupure and for the most part went extinct much earlier must be considered as valid a contender as any of the more reasonable hypotheses. It actually weighs against the monotreme and marsupial hypothesis, as it is now known that a mammaliform lineage did indeed exist on New Zealand, would have increased the already-fierce competition by the local birds and reptiles monotreme or marsupial colonists would have had to face. This would of course not have held true for a fierce mammalian carnivore, but such a species would have left a telltale impact on the local fauna, of which there is none.

However, not a single piece of conclusive physical evidence put forward in over 200 years has conclusively proven the animal is anything more than a myth. Who would have invented this myth, why, and when, is not known, as already signified by the difficulties to explain the name "waitoreke" alone.

Gallery of possible identities

See also


  1. ^ "Waitoreke: The Enigma from New Zealand". http://www.cryptozoology.com/cryptids/waitoreke.php. Retrieved 2007-08-04.  
  2. ^ "New Zealand's Indigenous Mouse". http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10773-fossils-reveal-new-zealands-indigenous-mouse.html. Retrieved 2007-08-02.  


External links


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