Tuatara fly south

BEN STRANG
Last updated 09:30 08/11/2012
tuatara, Nga Manu, Dunedin, Waikanae, sanctuary, breeding
National treasure: Noela McGregor with one of the tuatara at Nga Manu.
ngamnanu2
Plunket check: Sue Keall and Scott Jarvie insert a miocrochip into a tuatara.

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After four years' growing and learning life's basics at Nga Manu, 30 tuatara have been flown to Dunedin to a new home at Okoronui Ecosanctuary.

The tuatara were raised at the Waikanae nature reserve as part of a large translocation project.

Eggs from tuatara on Stephens Island, or Takapourewa, were transported to Victoria University about five years ago, where they were incubated.

Once hatched, the tiny tuatara, only centimetres long, were moved to Nga Manu where they dug their own burrows, and learnt survival techniques for when they would move south.

"At the start we dig a small hole with a lid over it, and that's where the tuatara spend their first night," Nga Manu manager Bruce Benseman said.

"Then the next day they start digging their burrow, and living like they would in the wild. It sets them up for this step, where they will move to a sanctuary."

He said the tuatara learnt to hide from predators with a clear roof to their pen, without the risk of being taken, while they got the occasional feed from Nga Manu staff.

Department of Conservation, Ngati Koata, Victoria University, Otago University, Nga Manu and Orokonui members have all been involved with the translocation.

Victoria University's Sue Keall and Otago University's Scott Jarvie microchipped and measured the tuatara before their trip on Tuesday.

Once dug from their burrows, the tuatara were given "what is effectively a plunket check", and placed into tubes for travel. They were taken on a flight from Wellington to Dunedin, placed on window seats while volunteers looked after them from an aisle seat.

Mike Elkington of Ngati Koata near Nelson said the program had been running for about 20 years, with translocations protecting the future of the species.

"On Stephens Island a fire or disease could wipe out the entire population, so we need to set up these other areas to ensure the survival of the species.

"If an egg is incubated at 22 degrees or over the tuatara will be a male, and 21 degrees and under a female, and that was discovered by the smart people at Victoria University.

"That means we can release a mixture into these sanctuaries. Nga Manu brings them up fit and strong and keeps tuatara going."

Mr Benseman said more than 2000 tuatara had been housed at Nga Manu in the past 20 years, with a survival rate for baby tuatara of about 90 per cent.

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