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Tuatara Siblings Move To Wellington Zoo As Zealandia Ecosanctuary's Wild Population Flourishes

Two captive tuatara, who have called Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne (Zealandia) home for the past decade, have found a new home at Wellington Zoo.

Staff from Zealandia and Wellington Zoo, and representatives of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Ngāti Koata, came together yesterday to move the sibling pair, Tāne and Tuahine.

While at Zealandia, Tāne and Tuahine have been advocates for tuatara, allowing hundreds of people to connect with their rare and endangered species which are only found in the wild on offshore islands or sanctuaries. Thanks to the generosity of Ngāti Koata who originally gifted Zealandia tuatara, the wild population of tuatara in the ecosanctuary is now in the hundreds, and Tāne and Tuahine can enjoy their retirement at the zoo.

Located in central Wellington, award-winning ecosanctuary Zealandia provides a unique opportunity for visitors to connect with nature, learn about conservation, and be inspired by what is possible when people come together to help nature.

Successful tuatara breeding in Zealandia was recorded in 2009 and the population has flourished with tuatara seen across the ecosanctuary, often basking in the sun near the entries to their burrows. Tāne and Tuahine have now retired as advocates for their species as their wild neighbours have taken on this important role.

“At Zealandia we’ve been privileged for years to provide a home for these tuatara. Tāne and Tuahine have inspired hundreds of young people and adults alike to care about these incredible rare taonga. Now the wild population at Zealandia has come of age and people can readily encounter them on their walks in the sanctuary, it’s time for Tāne and Tuahine to find a new home and our friends at Wellington Zoo have embraced the opportunity to take on their care,” says Jo Ledington, Zealandia’s General Manager Conservation and Restoration.

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While tens of thousands of tuatara live on Takapourewa/Stephens Island, there were no wild populations on the mainland until 2005, when Ngāti Koata allowed tuatara to be moved to Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne.

During 2005-2007, 200 tuatara from Takapourewa were gifted to the sanctuary by Ngāti Koata and released into the wild at Zealandia. Thanks to the generosity of Ngāti Koata in sharing these taonga, Zealandia became the first mainland site to establish a successful wild population.

Tuatara are the sole surviving member of an ancient order of reptiles called Rhynchocephalia. With only four orders of reptiles existing today, this makes them extremely unique. These ancient reptiles' ancestors roamed the world 225 million years ago, about the time the first dinosaurs appeared.

Zealandia and Wellington Zoo Trust work closely together to care for Aotearoa New Zealand’s native wildlife. Wellington Zoo’s Te Kōhanga The Nest provides expert veterinary service for rare species that call Zealandia home, like takahē, tuatara and kākā.

“Wellington Zoo is a conservation organisation uniquely positioned to care for native species like tuatara and kākā at Te Kōhanga The Nest. A not-for-profit organisation, we support and participate in conservation projects on local, national, and international levels,” says Dr. Ox Lennon, Conservation Manager.

Dr Lennon continues, “At Wellington Zoo, guided by our Kaupapa, “Me Tiaki Kia Ora!”, everything we do comes back to saving wildlife and wild places.”

Tāne and Tuahine are now living in their new home, Te Hononga, an off-display habitat dedicated to tuatara.

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