UK-born Tuatara a world first

  • 03/02/2016

The first tuatara born outside of New Zealand has been hatched at Chester Zoo.

The rare newcomer was born on December 5. It arrived weighing 4.21 grams following a 238 day incubation period.

UK-born Tuatara a world first

Feeding time for the newborn (Chester Zoo)

Reptile experts at the zoo have described the hatching as an "amazing event" after dedicating several decades to the project.

Keeper Isolde McGeorge has taken care of the species at Chester Zoo since 1977.

"Breeding tuatara is an incredible achievement," she said.

"They are notoriously difficult to breed and it's probably fair to say that I know that better than most as it has taken me 38 years to get here."

Ms McGeorge said the project has taken a lot of hard work tweaking the environment conditions of the tuatara, but it has all been worth it.

"This animal has been on the planet for over a quarter of a billion years and to be the first zoo to ever breed them outside of their homeland in New Zealand is undoubtedly an amazing event," she said.

UK-born Tuatara a world first

Specialist zoo keeper Isolde McGeorge oversees the newborn tuatara (Chester Zoo)

"Their metabolism is incredibly slow - they take only five breaths and just six to eight heartbeats per minute and they only reproduce every four years with their eggs taking a year to hatch.

"We've waited a very, very long time - 12 years with this particular pairing. The night before it hatched I spotted two beads of sweat on the egg. I had a feeling something incredible was about to happen and so I raced in early the next day and there she was. Immediately I broke down in tears – I was completely overwhelmed by what we had achieved.

"Now that we have all of the key factors in place, the challenge is to repeat our success and to do it again and again."

The new arrival is the offspring of mother Mustard and father Pixie. The duo, along with four other females, was accompanied by a Māori chief when they ceremoniously arrived in Chester from Wellington Zoo in 1994.

Around 70 million years ago the species became extinct everywhere except New Zealand, where it now has iconic status.