Associate Prof Alison Cree with an adult male tuatara released in the Orokonui Ecosanctuary yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Orokonui Ecosanctuary, in Dunedin, is now home to 44
The ecosanctuary was one of five sites yesterday - and the
only one in the South Island - to receive a consignment of
wild tuatara from Stephens Island in the Marlborough Sounds.
It is the furthest south tuatara have been free to roam in
more than 100 years.
The 222 reptiles travelled on Air New Zealand flights from
Wellington to Dunedin, Gisborne and Hamilton.
The tuatara are the "gift" of northern South Island iwi Ngati
Koata, and tribe members attended a ceremony at Orokonui
yesterday to mark the arrival of the reptiles.
The 15 adult males, 15 adult females and 14 juveniles will be
released in the predator-free sanctuary, which is already
home to 15 juvenile captive-hatched tuatara.
Orokonui chief executive Chris Baillie said the sanctuary was
the perfect place to restart the South Island's wild tuatara
population. The mixture of juveniles and adults would
kick-start a viable tuatara population with the necessary
Speaking at yesterday's ceremony, Associate Prof Alison Cree,
head of the University of Otago's zoology department - which
will monitor the tuatara - said while tuatara preferred a
warmer climate, they were remarkably adaptable.
Some of the tuatara - particularly the adult females - are
being fitted with transmitters to show their location and
also the surrounding temperature.
Prof Cree said that as global warming changed the climate, it
made sense to establish a population in the South. Cooler
temperatures meant juveniles - whose sex is partly determined
by temperature - were more likely to become female.
Testing showed the ground temperatures in some areas of
Orokonui were high enough for males to develop, too.
Department of Conservation acting coastal Otago area manager
David Agnew said yesterday's shipments added up to the
biggest known movement of tuatara ever undertaken.
The Orokonui sanctuary's tuatara numbers would be increased
in a few weeks' time when more arrived from Nga Manu Nature
Reserve, north of Wellington.
Yesterday, the tuatara travelled inside the cabin alongside
passengers, each housed in its own travelling tube.