Tuatara to be released on Little Barrier Island

  • Chris Carter

About 60 tuatara are to roam free on Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) for the first time in over a decade.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter made the announcement today at a special event on the island to mark the release of the first of the tuatara.

Until now the tuatara have lived in captivity on Little Barrier to protect them from kiore or Pacific rat. But a successful rat eradication programme by the Department of Conservation (DOC) has enabled their return to the wild.

“The release of tuatara is a major achievement in the ecological restoration of New Zealand’s premier nature reserve,” said Mr Carter.

“Thanks to a huge amount of effort by DOC, the supporters of Hauturu, and a substantial investment by the Labour-Progressive government, the island is now poised to revert to the type of place it was before the arrival of humans, dense with native species such as birds, tuatara, lizards and insects.

“Several of the species living on the island have already started to show signs of recovery since kiore were eradicated, and I eagerly await seeing tuatara flourish as well," Mr Carter said.

Tuatara are vulnerable to predators as they are slow breeders.

In the early 1990s, DOC began a captive management programme for tuatara on the island. Eight founder tuatara were taken into captivity and have since bred over 100 tuatara.

The tuatara released today are between eight and 12 years old and are a mix of male and female. It is hoped they will naturally repopulate the island.

Editor's Notes

·Sometimes called “a living fossil”, the tuatara is the last representative on earth of reptiles which appeared at the same time the dinosaurs were evolving, around 220 million years ago.
·Tuatara are currently found on around 35 islands. Seven of these are in Cook Strait and hold about 45,500 animals. About 10,000 Northern tuatara are spread over islands in the Hauraki Gulf, off Northland, the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty.
·Tuatara share burrows with burrowing seabirds such as petrels, prions and shearwaters, and feed on nutrient-rich bird droppings.
·They are about half a metre long when fully grown.
·Females lay soft-shelled eggs nine months after mating, and the eggs take 12-15 months to hatch. The sex of the baby depends on the soil temperature.
·It takes anything from 9-14 years for a juvenile tuatara to mature, and they reach their full size at 25-35 years old. The tuatara lives for between 60-100 years.
·Juveniles are active during the day, while adults come out to feed at night.