Tuatara are rare reptiles about 300 grams to a kilogram in size. They are the only living members of the Order Sphenodontia, which was well represented by many species during the age of the dinosaurs. All species apart from the tuatara declined and eventually became extinct about 60 million years ago. Tuatara are therefore of huge international interest. Typically they are now confined to predator-free offshore islands and the best we can currently do for them is to re-introduce them to as much of their former range as possible.
Translocation to Moutohora
In 1996 32 tuatara were released onto Moutohora (Whale Island), from the nearby source population of Moutoki. They have been increasing slowly, but a top-up was needed to augment one of the initial release sites, improve the genetics, and aim for a more rapid population increase on the 143 Ha Moutohora.
Team member Sarah King reports that the 2008 translocation went like clockwork. They caught 24 tuatara of the right size and sex during the first night and the remaining 6 on the second night in time for a powhiri the following day with key local people, who enjoyed getting to see tuatara in the flesh. All 30 tuatara were then released into pre-made holes on Moutohora, increasing that sub-population to at least 38 individuals, which is much healthier than the original 8 that were put there.
Funded by Fauna Recovery New Zealand ($3,700). Main photo courtesy Phillip Capper.