You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Two tuatara nests with viable eggs found at Orokonui Ecosanctuary could lead to the first witnessed hatchings of the reptiles there.
The ecosanctuary yesterday announced the discovery of the nests, each of which appear to have at least one viable egg.
Ecosanctuary general manager Chris Bailey said staff were not aware of any tuatara hatchings there.
''But it could have happened. You can't always find their burrows.''
The discoveries were ''very exciting'', although tuatara could take one or two years to hatch, she said.
Researchers suspected the nests were laid during the past few weeks of warmer weather.
They were found in an area near the original release site, close to recent tuatara diggings.
Orokonui contains more than 100 tuatara.
The creatures were introduced into the ecosanctuary in 2012.
A statement from the ecosanctuary yesterday warned tuatara nests could and did fail, even in natural island habitats.
''So Orokonui is cautious not to count their hatchlings before they have appeared,'' the statement said.
The process of hatching could eventually be caught on camera.
Female tuatara are thought to begin nesting at about 10 to 20 years old and about once every two to five years after that.
The mother stays at the nest for a week or more after laying, supposedly to guard it from other females.