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Orokonui tuatara alive and well after July’s downpours


Friday 18 August 2017 12:46pm

Tuatara at Orokonui
A young tuatara inside its artificial burrow. Photo credit: Alison Cree.

University of Otago researchers have confirmed that tuatara are alive and well at Orokonui Ecosanctuary following the torrential rain and flooding last month.

Using a “burrowscope” fitted with a red light, Department of Zoology PhD candidate Scott Jarvie found several tuatara in their expected burrows.

“Normally we do not disturb the tuatara during their winter rest”, Mr Jarvie says, “but it was important to provide reassurance to ecosanctuary staff, iwi guardians and the public that the tuatara were fine. We were thrilled to see they were.”

Mr Jarvie checked the occupants of several burrows. These included artificial burrows that had been made with drainage pipe and installed in 2012, when the tuatara were released at Orokonui.

Three young tuatara were seen moving inside their burrows. A fourth, adult, tuatara was seen in a natural burrow nearby.

“The fact that the young tuatara are still using the artificial burrows shows how well the burrows had been made by the volunteers who installed them”, he says.

Ngāti Koata, kaitiaki of the tuatara from the source population on Takapourewa (Stephens Island) have been informed of the sightings, as have Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, mana whenua for the local area.

Orokonui Conservation manager Elton Smith says the 21-22 July deluge was the worst rain event recorded in the 11 years since work began at the sanctuary.

“While the fence and water tables took a real battering, the forest itself sustained very little obvious damage and no slips were recorded around the main tuatara habitat.”

Lead researcher Professor Alison Cree says the event was probably “just a rather wet day at the office” for tuatara.

“These resilient reptiles are quite capable of digging new burrows, or even surviving underwater for a time if they need to. That’s the beauty of being an ectotherm – which is known in popular terms as ‘cold-blooded’ – the oxygen demands of tuatara at cool temperatures are very low.”

The researchers expect the tuatara to begin sunning themselves outside their burrows within a month or two, as conditions warm up.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Alison Cree
Department of Zoology
University of Otago
Tel: 64 3 479 7482

Ms Chris Baillie
Orokonui Ecosanctuary General Manager
Tel: 64 3 482 1755

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