Hungry tuatara on the move

Too many tuatara is rarely a problem in New Zealand, where habitat destruction and predators have seen the reptile forced to the brink of extinction.

But on a small, pest free island in the Mercury group - off the north eastern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula - tuatara have survived so successfully, they are now being moved to help establish new colonies.

Sixty northern tuatara leave their home on Middle Island today and take up residence on Tiritiri Matangi Island, off the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, north of Auckland.

The new colony will provide the only place, other than Somes Island in Wellington Harbour, where the public can see tuatara in their natural habitat.

Department of Conservation (DOC) fauna ecologist Leigh Marshall said establishing a new colony on Tiritiri Matangi was "quite exciting".

"People don't have the chance to see them in the wild and there's oodles of people there (at Tiritiri Matangi) all the time."

The last tuatara sighted on Tiritiri Matangi was made by the lighthouse keeper in 1902.

Before humans arrived in New Zealand, tuatara were found throughout the North Island and in parts of the South Island but they are now limited to 35 offshore islands.

Ms Marshall said that as more and more islands are restored, and predators removed, more tuatara could be relocated.

It was also possible they could be introduced at mainland islands such as the planned Maungatautari Ecological Island near Cambridge and in the Karori Sanctuary in Wellington.

The tuatara selected to go to Tiritiri Matangi are of prime breeding age and will be released in groups with the hope several colonies will become established on Tiritiri Matangi.

 
 
Illustrationer af Anna Laurine Kornum
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