A tuatara being microchipped
Image: Cameron Houston | ©

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


A tuatara survey by DOC and Ngāti Awa points to a healthy population of tuatara growing on Moutohorā (Whale Island). It’s a success for DOC and Ngāti Awa who jointly manage the island.

Date:  10 April 2019

The rare reptile, tuatara, is found only in New Zealand and once thrived in the age of the dinosaurs. It was one of New Zealand’s first native species to be fully protected by law in 1895.

This March, DOC rangers Mithuna Sothieson and Cameron Houston as well as Ngāti Awa volunteers Paula Hudson, Rangi Raki and reptile specialist, Dr Jo Monks worked hard during their week on the island to monitor tuatara. Tuatara are a difficult species to monitor as they are very cryptic animals. The survey will help scientists understand the survival, recruitment and dispersal of the translocated species on the island.

Team lead, Ms Sothieson was pleased with the results of the survey.

“We were able to find at least 30% of the original population founders all in good condition – a criteria for determining if a tuatara translocation has been successful.”

The team also discovered a good number of new island-born individuals which were captured and microchipped for security purposes and to continue long-term population monitoring.

The survey is done every five years to pick up changes in the population over time as tuatara are both a long-lived and slow-breeding species. Tuatara have one of the slowest growth rates of any reptile, their average life span is about 60 years, but it is thought that they can live up to 100 years.

Tuatara were once found throughout New Zealand but were wiped out on the mainland by rat predation and now survive on 32 offshore islands.

“Tuatara are continuing to successfully breed on Moutohorā and therefore the future of this population is looking positive,” Miss Sothieson said.

Moutohorā Wildlife Management Reserve is one of three reserves managed by the Te Tapatoru ā Toi partnership which supports the introduction of tuatara to the island. DOC and Ngāti Awa have been working together on this project since the very first translocation from Moutoki Island (Nga Moutere o Rurima) in 1996, and the supplementary translocation 10 years ago.

Rangi says it was a valuable experience for the two Ngāti Awa volunteers.

“Thanks to Jo and Mithuna, we learnt a great deal about the tuatara and found that it's not just a rare animal but a taonga to us.”

The pest free island is also home to species of lizards, North Island brown kiwi, tīeke (North Island saddleback), a large colony of kuia (Grey-faced Petrel) and a number of other rare and endangered flora and fauna.


Mithuna Sothieson, Biodiversity Ranger
Phone: +64 27 357 5844
Email: msothieson@doc.govt.nz

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