Dog walker rescues truant tuatara

MISSING PIECE: A tuatara found outside the Zealandia fence had to have its tail amputated.
MISSING PIECE: A tuatara found outside the Zealandia fence had to have its tail amputated.

A dog walker whose only previous experience of tuatara was the brew of the same name has saved the life of one of the ancient reptiles after it escaped from the Zealandia eco-sanctuary.

On Sunday, while walking her dog Dobby, Lorna Borrett was startled when she came across a tuatara outside the Wellington sanctuary's predator-proof fence.

As someone who grew up in England, she wasn't sure what it was, and had to phone partner Jacob Rosevear. "I only knew of tuatara through the brand of beer, which Jacob drinks."

The couple called Zealandia, which quickly sent a ranger to the scene. The sanctuary said the reptile was unlikely to have survived for long outside the fence, because of the abundance of predators.

"It was kind of a cool experience - there can't be that many people in the world that have come across a tuatara in the wild," Ms Borrett said.

The male tuatara, of indeterminate age, has been admitted to Wellington Zoo's hospital. Veterinarian Baukje Lenting said it had been stabilised and given pain relief.

The rest of its tail had to be amputed because of an infection, but it would likely grow another.

During surgery, the tuatara will be examined to find out exactly how it lost its tail.

He'll be living in The Nest Te Kōhanga for the next few months while he recovers on antibiotics.

The most likely assumption is it dropped it as a reflex as it fell from the fence, or because it was attacked. Like lizards, tuatara can break off their tails when attacked and generate another.

Tuatara were introduced to the sanctuary in 2005, becoming the first breeding population on the mainland in more than 200 years.

The Dominion Post