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Giants heading to Hauraki Gulf isle

Giants heading to Hauraki Gulf isle

Over 300 wētā punga, bred at Auckland Zoo, will be released into forest habitat on an island in The Noises group within the Hauraki Gulf this evening.

The arrival of the unique nocturnal invertebrates, the largest of Aotearoa’s 11 giant wētā species and one of the world’s heaviest insects, follows the Zoo’s earlier release of over 900 wētā punga onto the privately owned pest-free Noises in June.

“With the approval of the Department of Conservation (DOC) and great support from Noises landowners and iwi, we’re absolutely delighted to be managing the release of wētā punga here. This is prime real estate for these beautiful creatures to thrive and breed, which is what they desperately need,” says Auckland Zoo Ectotherms team leader, Don McFarlane.

Once widespread throughout Northland and Auckland, New Zealand’s ‘Nationally Endangered’ wētā punga are today only found naturally on Hauturu o Toi (Little Barrier Island).

A breeding recovery programme involving DOC, Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo is working to help secure a future for these endemic animals by establishing self-sustaining populations on many islands throughout the Hauraki Gulf and beyond. To date, this has included releasing wētā punga onto Tiritiri Matangi and Motuora islands, and now, Auckland Zoo’s release of over 1250 wētā punga onto The Noises.

“Being able to successfully breed and release wētā punga to the wild is for myself and the Zoo team, living the dream. All up this year, we’ve released close to 1500, and have more animals in the process of hatching that, all going well, will be released onto Tiritiri Matangi, Motuora and The Noises in 2016,” says Don.

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As part of the recovery programme for wētā punga, in early 2016, the Zoo will also be collecting a small number of new individuals from Little Barrier to increase the genetic diversity of the breed-for-release programme population.

Helping drive the Zoo’s conservation efforts for wētā punga today has been the Zoo’s principal partner, Mazda. The Zoo’s new aptly wētā punga skinned BT-50 Mazda provided the perfect vehicle to transport staff and their 300 charges to the Bayswater Marina where a DOC boat awaited for the sea voyage to The Noises.

Wētā punga fast facts

The wētā punga dates back more than 190 million years. Once widespread throughout Auckland, Northland and Great Barrier Islands, due to mammalian predators, it has only survived on Little Barrier Island (Hauturu o Toi)
The wētā punga is the largest of New Zealand’s 11 giant wētā species and one of the world’s heaviest insects. Females are heavier than males and can weigh up to 35 grams, heavier than an average house sparrow. Largest ever recorded was a female weighing 71 grams!
For its size, the wētā punga produces one of the largest poo pellets of any insect, so plays a vital role in the ecosystem - germinating and distributing plant seeds
An adult by 18 – 24 months, wētā punga start breeding soon after this. Females lay between 100 – 300 eggs throughout their life. Wētā punga live for about nine months after reaching maturity
A wētā punga goes through 10 moultings to reach adulthood, and will eat each exoskeleton that it sheds, as it provides a great source of protein
The wētā punga, a nocturnal species, is classified as ‘Nationally Endangered’

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