‘Fantastic’ discovery of five baby tuatara in old enclosure

Five baby tuatara discovered at an Invercargill demolition site last week hatched amid a request from the Department of Conservation and iwi to pause breeding.

The discovery has been described as a "fantastic" surprise as it was believed this type of tuatara was not capable of breeding.

On May 29, a contractor working on the demolition of Invercargill’s old museum spotted a baby tuatara in an area formerly used for the animals.

The council originally said a total of four were found, but have since confirmed a fifth was recovered last Friday.

Ranging in size from 11cm-12cm and weighing between 5g and 9g, they were believed to be less than 1 year old.

The council has confirmed the birthing took place during a freeze on breeding.

Parks performance manager Kate Gough said the council received a request from the Department of Conservation (Doc) and iwi in 2018 to pause its breeding programme after 32 years.

"This was done to keep the number of tuatara in captivity at a manageable level and to ensure enough genetic diversity existed among Invercargill’s captive population," she said.

Despite the programme still being on hold, the discovery of the babies last week was still "extremely exciting", she said.

"It was not believed that this particular type of tuatara (Brothers Island tuatara) was capable of breeding, so to have the new additions arrive is fantastic."

Doc senior biodiversity ranger Ros Cole described the discovery of the animals last week as a "surprise".

Tuatara breeding was overseen by a wider recovery group and iwi to ensure captive populations were maintained at a manageable level, she said.

"For the Invercargill captive population, there is no current need for them to breed and we have a good working relationship with the (council) to manage this."

Ms Cole shared the view that the Brothers Island tuatara were unable to produce offspring.

In a statement released by the council following the discovery, Te Ātiawa ki Te Waka-a-Māui Trust chief executive Justin Carter said the iwi welcomed the surprising news of baby tuatara.

Today, a new enclosure capable of housing 18 tuatara will be officially opened at Queens Park Animal Reserve.

The council already manages 17 resident tuatara, meaning it would need to look at other options for the babies soon.

The baby tuatara are being held in a temporary home inside the new tuatara facility.

 - LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.