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.