An exciting arrival seven-years in the making has staff at the Australian Reptile Park overjoyed. This week three female Tuatara, considered living dinosaurs, arrived in Australia from Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom. Although the reptilian trio made the special trip from Chester Zoo, the origins of the Tuatara are from a special island in New Zealand called Takapourewa and to the Māori people of Ngati Koata.

After going through a strict biosecurity process at Sydney Airport, the Tuatara made the trip up the M1 to the Australian Reptile Park where they headed straight into a purpose-built quarantine facility. As Tuatara are from New Zealand, they require a cold climate of between 16-17°C and thus are being kept in a cool-room to ensure they are healthy and happy.

Once they arrived at the Australian Reptile Park, the Tuatara received immediate health checks where they all passed with flying colours and then were introduced to their new home for their quarantine period. The three Tuatara are currently the only tuatara living in Australia.

Jake Meney, Head of Reptiles at the Australian Reptile Park said, “I couldn’t contain my excitement for their arrival! These Tuatara are absolutely beautiful – and most importantly they arrived in perfect health, and are settling in perfectly! We are very thankful to the Ngati Koata for giving the Australian Reptile Park their blessing to look after these amazing animals and for them to be brought to Australia!”

The three Tuatara are all five-years-old and have the names Hinemoa, Arona, Marika which have significant Māori meanings:

  • Hinemoa – The Lady of the Lake
  • Arona – Colourful
  • Marika – Quiet and careful

Mr Meney continued, “It is incredible to think that these animals have the potential to be here at the Australian Reptile Park for the next 100 years! They are one of the most long-lived reptiles on the face of the earth. It’s just one of the things that make Tuatara so unique!”

The Tuatara are the only surviving members of the order Sphenodontia. This order was well represented by many species during the age of the dinosaurs, some 200 million years ago. All species except the Tuatara declined and eventually became extinct about 60 million years ago. Because of this, Tuatara are of huge international interest to biologists. They are recognised internationally, and within New Zealand, as species in need of active conservation management with their biggest threat being the introduced rat.

During their off-display quarantine period, Park staff will be busy building a brand-new exhibit to showcase the Tuatara to visitors of the Australian Reptile Park with the exhibit projected to be complete by the 2022 Christmas holidays.