The first tuatara born in the wild on mainland New Zealand in 200 years will face an army of hungry predators.
The eight-centimetre-long baby was found by staff at Wellington's Karori Sanctuary yesterday.
It was captured for a photography session, but has since been released back into the sanctuary.
"Not only will he have to run the gauntlet of cannibalistic adult tuatara, he'd also make a tasty snack for morepork, kingfisher and weka," said the sanctuary's conservation scientist, Raewyn Empson. "Like all the wildlife living here, he'll just have to take his chances."
She described the discovery as significant. "It means we have successfully re-established a breeding population on the mainland, which is a massive breakthrough for New Zealand conservation."
Sanctuary staff found the tiny tuatara during routine maintenance work. It is thought to be a month old and probably hatched from eggs laid about 16 months ago.
Tuatara once lived throughout the mainland of New Zealand and about 100,000 have survived in the wild, but only on 32 islands.
They were wiped out mainly by the kiore (Pacific rat) which arrived with the first Polynesian settlers about 700 years ago.
In 2005, 70 tuatara were moved to the sanctuary from Takapourewa/Stephens Island in Cook Strait.
A further 130 were sent two years later.
The baby tuatara will not face introduced predators, such as cats and rats, as its home is surrounded by a predator-proof fence.
But sanctuary spokesman Alan Dicks said that did not diminish the threat. "There may be a fence around it, but it's nature raw in tooth and claw. He's got to run the gauntlet."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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