University of Otago PhD student Anne Besson contemplates
how this young tuatara will enjoy its new home in a secure
outdoor enclosure at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Photo by
The tuatara is the symbol of the Orokonui Ecosanctuary,
and the arrival of 15 young tuatara has delighted sanctuary
The juveniles will live in an outdoor enclosure at the
sanctuary, but their move brings one step closer the eventual
return of tuatara to wild habitat in the South Island.
"It's very exciting," sanctuary general manager Chris Baillie
"We are hopeful that, in the future, a thriving population of
tuatara will live in the ecosanctuary to inspire visitors to
assist in the protection of this precious reptile."
The tuatara came from the University of Otago and will be
closely monitored in the secure outdoor tuatarium.
University researchers have been studying how tuatara respond
to the colder temperatures of the South.
Tuatara are native to New Zealand and once lived as far south
as Bluff, but all captive tuatara in the South Island,
including those in Invercargill and Queenstown, now originate
from the few dozen populations found on offshore islands in
Cook Strait and northern New Zealand.
Project leader Associate Prof Alison Cree, of the
university's department of zoology, said tuatara laid eggs
and warm soil was needed for embryonic development.
Several of the transferred tuatara came from eggs incubated
in the sanctuary, so the soils there were warm enough for
embryos to survive during winter, Prof Cree said.
PhD student Anne Besson found tuatara basked more efficiently
when sunlight hours reduced, and they remained active at
temperatures as low as 5degC.
While the tuatara will not be on display, ecosanctuary staff
and university researchers are in consultation with the
Department of Conservation and iwi about the eventual
free-release of tuatara within the sanctuary.
The tuatara youngsters are not the only new arrivals at the
The hatching of the first kaka chick has also thrilled staff.
Ms Baillie said a young pair of kaka - "barely the minimum
age" - were released into the sanctuary last year, had paired
up, found their own nest hole, incubated two eggs and were
now rearing a young chick.
The chick was about 40 days old and still had grey feathers,
The other egg is believed to be no longer viable.
The sanctuary hopes to establish a viable breeding population
of kaka which could eventually negate the need for a captive