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Tuatara ambassadors are ready for the spotlight

The tuatara is an ancient reptile with three eyes and no penis. Its ancestors once walked with dinosaurs and it is often called a “living fossil”.

We call it a “living treasure”.

These strange features are just a few reasons why Zealandia is celebrating this unique species during Tuatara February. By training two ambassador animals to help explain their strange natural history, visitors can get up close and personal or name one of these special creatures.

After being brought to Zealandia from Southland Museum, the two tuatara have been in training to help them feel more at ease in human company and comfortable being handled.
“The animals are brought out for short periods at a time so they don’t get stressed. But it’s long enough for people to understand how special they are,” said tuatara handler, Ron Goudswaard.

"The male is quite relaxed, but the female is still a little nervous. It certainly helps to have warm hands to make them feel at ease."

This is the first time that Zealandia has trained tuatara to interact with the public.

Visitors can expect to learn more about tuatara during a brief talk by Zealandia guides.

“It’s a family-friendly event and a very special opportunity. We also have a Children’s Trail, colouring competition and an opportunity to name one of the ambassadors.”

“Having the chance to work so closely with them is a privilege and watching children go from being slightly frightened to absolutely awestruck makes it very worthwhile.”

It is hoped that Tuatara February will increase awareness about tuatara conservation and research in the sanctuary to contribute to their ongoing survival as a species.


• Tuatara are a rare reptile found only in New Zealand.

• Tuatara were extinct from the mainland since the late 1700’s until they were released at Zealandia in 2005.

Why are tuatara important?

• Tuatara are the only living member of the Sphenodontia order. Their ancestors were well represented by many species during the age of the dinosaurs. This makes them important in understanding reptile evolution.

• Tuatara reproduction is affected by temperature. The temperature that eggs experience during incubation will determine the sex of the hatchlings. Scientists suspect that global warming could cause the extinction of tuatara. Once a population has more males than females, not enough young can be produced to replace old animals.


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