Taking time to learn more about tuatara

The warm summer nights provided the perfect opportunity for tuatara monitoring to take place. Tuatara were first re-introduced to roam freely in Orokonui in 2012 as part of a partnership with Ngāti Koata, kaitiaki of the tuatara on Takapourewa/Stephen’s Island in the Marlborough Sounds, and with the support of mana whenua of Orokonui, Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki. Since then, we have had several exciting milestones, from finding tuatara spreading through new parts of Orokonui, to the first sightings of hatchlings in early 2020. 

Researcher Scott Jarvie and Orokonui Educator Taylor try to pattern match one of the Orokonui tuatara to identify the individual.

Monitoring the tuatara population is an important part of understanding how these precious taonga are going at Orokonui and what work needs to be done to facilitate their return to this landscape. Orokonui has been lucky to have the support and expertise of the University of Otago, and now the Otago Regional Council, in monitoring these incredible reptiles. 

On one warm night in late January 2023, 17 individuals were captured and measured, a new record for a single night at the sanctuary! Some of the individuals measured have doubled in weight since release, an encouraging sign.  

With tuatara though, conservation requires patience. Despite breeding occurring it will be a long time before tuatara could be considered common in Orokonui. Requiring 10-20 years to reach breeding age, with eggs that can take longer than 18 months to hatch, growing a tuatara population is a marathon rather than a sprint. 

A tuatara tick sits on the skin of an Orokonui tuatara. A long shared evolutionary history has made these ticks as vulnerable as their hosts. 

One cool observation was the presence of tuatara ticks on several individuals. These specialist parasites are rarer than their already rare hosts. In some other translocations ticks have been lost, but only time will tell if they establish in Orokonui. This is a good reminder of the need to protect all wildlife, not just our beautiful birds. 

You can read more about the history of Tuatara at Orokonui in this article written by researcher Alison Cree

To see tuatara at Orokonui it is still best to visit the grasslands enclosure on a warm day.


A cacophony of kākā chicks

If you’ve visited Orokonui lately you may have noticed the cacophony of young kākā playing and making a racket across the sanctuary. This is a result of another successful kākā breeding season at Orokonui.

This season 15 chicks fledged from five known nests within the sanctuary. Three of these were in our special nest boxes and three in the cavities of large kāpuka/broadleaf trees.  There may also be nests that we didn’t detect; these could be in cavities near the tops of trees, or in less frequented areas of the sanctuary. An increasing number of sightings of unbanded birds suggests at least a few chicks were fledged from these hidden retreats. 

A measurement of the upper beak of the kākā tells us the sex of the bird

It can be up to 81 days from the time a kākā hatches to when it leaves the nest, so we are sure many kākā parents are feeling a deep sense of relief at this time of year!

One set of caring kākā parents has quite a remarkable story. The two kākā, known as Mr and Mrs Willowbank, spent 10 years in an aviary in Christchurch before being released at Orokonui. During their time in captivity they had stopped breeding and it was thought best to give them a taste of the wild life. This year they raised two chicks in a tree cavity near the Pōkākā Loop Track in the sanctuary. With lifespans of 30 years or longer, hopefully they will have many more sets of chicks in the future. 

Bands help us identify kākā, and facilitate research

Look out at the feeders for birds marked with red primary leg bands as this is the colour that designates this year’s cohort of chicks. You can help us monitor that kākā population by recording your kākā sightings (at Orokonui, home, or elsewhere) in the Orokonui kākā database.

To report sightings head here

Remember, too, if any of these cheeky rascals turn up to your place please avoid feeding them human foods like nuts as these can make them very unwell, and teach them bad behaviours. Trust us, they don’t need anymore help with that!

After a short excursion being banded, weighed, measured and checked over. Young kākā are out back in the nest to finish their development.