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Shock Discovery Of Tuatara At Demolition Site

 One of Invercargill's resident tuatara. This week, four babies were discovered in an old enclosure. (File photo). Credit: Invercargill City Council/Supplied.

The chances of discovering baby tuatara in an abandoned enclosure this week are being described as similar to “finding a needle in a haystack”.

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

The tuatara were found at Invercargill's old museum, where dismantling has begun. Credit: Invercargill City Council/Supplied.

Three more babies were later found hiding in the soil.

The four animals ranged in size from 11 to 12cm and weighed between five and nine grams, meaning they were likely less than one year old.

Council parks and recreation manager Caroline Rain said the enclosure had been thoroughly searched prior to the tuatara being moved in February 2023, meaning the babies had likely been in egg-form at the time.

“We did everything you’d expect us to have done to ensure that there wasn’t anything there," she said.

“They were genuinely just missed, they were not seen.”

Rain said while their discovery was unexpected, the animals were resilient.

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“You don’t survive from since the time of the dinosaurs without having the capability to do phenomenal things such as this.”

Council project manager Haydyn Taylor is in charge of the museum project, and detailed how the situation played out.

One of the demolition team came to him saying they’d found something in the old enclosure, believing it must be a lizard or skink.

But having just built the new enclosure, he recognised it as a tuatara right away.

“Everyone was pretty excited to be honest. Most of those boys had never seen a tuatara let alone been in such close proximity to one.”

The baby tuatara was about the size of a little finger and blended into the dirt, he said.

Was it possible there could be more in there?

“No, they were all in the same spot. We had a very good look, we went through the whole place,” Taylor said.

A total 17 tuatara were held at the city’s old museum until early last year, when they were shifted to an undisclosed location to make way for its demolition and the council’s new rebuild.

This week’s discovery precedes the opening of a new tuatara enclosure at Queens Park animal reserve on June 8.

The new facility will house 18 tuatara, meaning the council will need to look at other homing options for the newly discovered babies.

According to Pukaha National Wildlife Centre, there are an estimated 100,000 tuatara left in the world - a species endemic to New Zealand.

About half are found on Stephens Island in the Cook Strait.

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

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