Orokonui Ecosanctuary to be home to 60 wild tuatara

Sixty wild tuatara from the Marlborough Sounds will soon make their home at Orokonui Ecosanctuary but only two captive-bred reptiles will be able to be seen by visitors until they have settled into their new environment.

Orokonui will welcome the new additions to its predator-proof enclosure with a special celebration on October 16.

General manager Chris Baillie said the tuatara were given by Ngati Koata who hold guardianship over the tuatara on Stephens Island, Marlborough Sounds.

The island is home to the largest population of tuatara in one place - 30,000.

Orokonui was the only South Island sanctuary of five to receive tuatara this year, she said.

Tuatara were once common throughout the country but became extinct on the main islands by the late 1700s, due to predation by introduced mammals, human harvest and habitat changes.

"It is important for the survival of this threatened species that there are a number of insurance populations spread throughout New Zealand in case of extreme events or disease."

The ecosanctuary was creating a site within the fence for the tuatara including the creation of basking sites and burrows.

It was planned to build a viewing pen for two captive-bred tuatara, from the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, so that visitors could view them.

University of Otago Associate Prof Alison Cree, her students and colleagues would monitor the tuatara using transmitters and temperature-sensitive data loggers.

Future plans included the transfer next month of 30 captive-hatched young tuatara from Nga Manu Nature Reserve, on the Kapiti Coast.


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