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Rare tuatara raised at Wellington Zoo

Rare tuatara raised at Wellington Zoo to be released into the wild

Fifty Borthers Island tuatara hatched at Victoria University and cared for at Wellington Zoo for the last five years will be dug up from their burrows at the Zoo on Tuesday 30 October in preparation for their release onto Long Island in Cook Strait on 31 October, Zoo Chief Executive Karen Fifield and Victoria University Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Charles Daugherty, announced today.

"We are thrilled to work with Victoria University to help conserve this iconic New Zealand species by establishing a tuatara population on Long Island," says Karen.

"The tuatara were collected as eggs from North Brother Island in Cook Strait by Victoria University researchers, incubated and hatched at Victoria University before coming to the Zoo in 2002, aged approximately 1 -2 years old."

Karen says the Zoo has been waiting a long time to make this announcement. "They have lived in a specially built enclosure at the Zoo, off display, for five years – they have been our biggest secret. Two weeks ago they were given health checks by the DoC vet, and they’ve been cleared to be released into the wild.

"The dig is likely to take most of the day and evening, as tuatara can be rather elusive. Searchers carefully excavate each burrow using their hands to find the tuatara. The soil is very sandy so is easy to move by hand, and the fingers are able to explore the depths of the burrow for side-burrows and tuatara."

Once captured, each tuatara is weighed and measured. It is then placed into a secure plastic container with ventilation and moist paper towels, before being packaged on the morning of departure into individual cardboard travel tubes to transport to the South Island, and then onto Long Island.

Professor Daugherty noted that “This exciting outcome helps to secure the future for the rare Brothers Island tuatara and was achieved through a partnership of Wellington Zoo, the Te Ati Âwa people of Picton and Wellington, the Department of Conservation and Victoria University."

On 31 October at 7.30am a farewell ceremony will take place in the Zoo’s Wild Theatre to send the tuatara on their way. This will be conducted by representatives from the Wellington Tenths Trust, who welcomed the tuatara to the Zoo when they arrived in 2002.

Photo opportunity: Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast will be attending the tuatara dig at Wellington Zoo at 1pm on Tuesday 30 October.


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