Tuatara

Ongoing

 

Our Tuatarium (as we call it) is proclaimed to be one of the world’s best enclosures, where you can see live tuatara thriving in an environment that mimics their natural habitat. Being a much warmer environment than other outdoor enclosures, especially in the winter months, you are more likely to see a live tuatara here. Tuatara are cold-blooded and more active in warmer habitats.

 

The Southland Museum cares for over 100 tuatara, all at different stages of development; from new born babies to teenagers, to our world famous Henry, who is over 110 years old. Incidentally, Henry holds the world record for living in captivity for over 46 years.

 

Tuatara can also be viewed outside museum hours through the windows on the north side of the pyramid.

 

 

For public tours and hands on experiences please enquire.

 

 

History of the Tuatara in Southland

 

Tuatara are a significant attraction for the Southland Museum’s visitors and they have become iconic for Invercargill. Though it has become closely associated with Southland, the tuatara has become extinct on New Zealand’s North and South Island. Now only surviving on thirty-five islands in Cook Strait and the east coast of the North Island.

 

Early Days

 

In the late 1880s, early records from the Invercargill Library (known as the Athenaeum), show that a live tuatara roamed the shelves for several years and was cared for by the cleaning lady.

 

The Southland Museum and Art Gallery’s first documented interest in tuatara was in 1915, (when the Southland Museum was located at today’s Southern Institute of Technology, on Tay Street) when the Board Secretary, Alfred Philpott, wrote to the Department of Internal Affairs requesting a pair of tuatara for a living natural history display. They wanted to break away from the standard practice of only showing stuffed natural history specimens. Unfortunately, this application was declined.

 

Some early 20th Century curio hunters - John McKay, Alexandra King, and Robert Gibb; and from the museum, Sorenson and Teviotdale, all collected tuatara bones around the southern coast. Early accounts in the Southland Museum’s archive also note the following references to live tuatara seen in Southland:

 

  • Otago Witness January 13, 1883. 'At the Brothers Island near Stewart Island recently, Captain Fairchild of the Stella, caught one of the large lizards’ peculiar to the North Island of New Zealand. It measures 15-16 inches in length, and flourishes in confinement. Visitors to the Dunedin Museum may have noticed one of these lizards alive in a small cage. There were two of them, but one about six weeks ago died.’

 

  • In 1951 a complete tuatara specimen (dried skin and organs) from their native island - Stewart Island - was gifted to the Museum.

 

  • On 28 March 1957 Mr H.R. Wilson, from South Hillend wrote notes about an earlier date in Invercargill. ‘About 1903 at south of Warwick Downs, Ben Bolt Hill, 600 feet above sea level on a fine sunny day saw a sphenodon run into a hole in the rocks.’

 

In 1961 museum staff, Gordon White and Arthur Mackenzie, succeeded in obtaining a live tuatara. This tuatara was received from Mr Long, of the Hillmorton Zoological Park in Christchurch, and was given the name ‘George’.

 

George later received a girlfriend, ‘Stephanie’. After mating with Stephanie, George died and was replaced by ‘Henry’ in 1970.

 

In 1974 the tuatara was re-housed from the Natural History Gallery to the Museum’s outdoor enclosure, which was built by borstal inmates. It was called a ‘Tuataruim’ by Board Member - Dr Len Butterfield.

 

Breeding Programme

 

In 1972 museum employee, Lindsay Hazley, showed a keen interest in the tuatara and pursued and pioneered the husbandry skills that resulted in the first regular (and most prolific) breeding within an artificial, captive environment.

 

Since 1984 the Museum’s adult tuatara have produced eggs every 2 years, and for a period of 6 years have laid annually (1989–1995). This event had never been previously recorded. This is a marked contrast with tuatara in the wild, which only lay once every 3-4 years.

 

The 1990 Southland Museum and Art Gallery pyramid redevelopment incorporated a 200 square metre enclosure to house the growing tuatara population. This enclosure gave more control over climate extremes and provided visitors with optimum viewing opportunities to see live tuatara.

 

In 1991 the Museum received a colony - classified as rare and endangered - Guntheri Tuatara. This became New Zealand’s only breeding centre for this species. More recent studies show this to be a narrow genetic population of the one species.

 

In 2006 the Tuataruim roof was replaced with a special plexiglass acrylic. This allows all wavelengths of light, including up to 80% Ultra Violet B emission, which is essential for tuatara to produce Vitamin D (it aids calcium uptake for egg quality and good health).

 

 

Since the roof replacement, the Southland Museum’s breeding programme has become so successful that many of the Southland bred tuatara have been transferred to zoos throughout New Zealand.

 

 

Looking forward

 

Since Southland Museum’s total tuatara population is over 100, and there are sufficient numbers of tuatara throughout New Zealand zoos, a predator free enclosure was constructed in Southland in 2014, on the coast, to hold surplus tuatara for future translocations.

 

The Southland Museum and Art Gallery is home to an extremely successful Tuatara Breeding Programme and is therefore a key contributor to the survival of New Zealand’s unique ‘living Taonga’.

 

 

Lindsay Hazley QSM

 

For more information on tuatara please contact us or you can download our Tuatarabrochure.pdf.