New Caledonia is a sui generis collectivity of overseas France in the southwest Pacific Ocean, south of Vanuatu, about 1,210 km east of Australia, and 17,000 km from Metropolitan France. The archipelago, part of the Melanesia subregion, includes the main island of Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines, and a few remote islets. The Chesterfield Islands are in the Coral Sea.
In addition to its outstanding plant diversity and endemism, New Caledonia also provides habitat for a wide diversity of animals. Over 100 bird species live in New Caledonia, of which 24 are endemic. One of these endemic bird species is the New Caledonian crow, a bird noted for its tool-making abilities, which rival those of primates. These crows are renowned for their extraordinary intelligence and ability to fashion tools to solve problems, and make the most complex tools of any animal yet studied apart from humans.
The endemic kagu, agile and able to run quickly, is a flightless bird, but it is able to use its wings to climb branches or glide. Its sound is similar to the bark of a dog. It is the surviving member of monotypic family Rhynochetidae, order Eurypygiformes.
There are 11 endemic fish species and 14 endemic species of decapod crustaceans in the rivers and lakes of New Caledonia. Some, such as Neogalaxias, exist only in small areas. The nautilus—considered a living fossil and related to the ammonites, which became extinct at the end of the Mesozoic era—occurs in Pacific waters around New Caledonia. There is a large diversity of marine fish in the surrounding waters, which are within the extents of the Coral Sea.
Despite its large number of bird, reptile, and fish species, New Caledonia has remarkably few mammal species: nine, of which six are endemic.
Several species of New Caledonia are remarkable for their size: Ducula goliath is the largest extant species of arboreal pigeon; Rhacodactylus leachianus, the largest gecko in the world; Phoboscincus bocourti, a large skink thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 2003.
Much of New Caledonia's fauna present before human settlement is now extinct, including Sylviornis, a bird over a metre tall not closely related to any living species, and Meiolania, a giant horned turtle that diverged from living turtles during the Jurassic period.