An Honored Gift for Conservation
On April 5, 1995, the San Diego Zoo received a rare treasure: the only group of endangered Brothers Island tuataras outside their native land. It was estimated that there were only about 300 of these reptiles remaining, and they were only found on one small island. In order to increase their numbers, the Zoo was asked to participate in a breeding program with the goal of eventually returning Zoo-hatched tuataras to New Zealand. Chieftain Ilan Love and his niece, Yvonne Dawkins (at left in the photo), representing the Te Atiawa Iwi of Arapawa, New Zealand, presented the 10 tuataras to Zoological Society president Bill Fox (accepting the gift) in a dramatic, ritual ceremony held at the Zoo.
The 10 tuataras were the first hatched in managed care, from eggs collected in the wild, and were 2 and 3 years old. Tuataras are a long-lived species and do not reach maturity until about age 20, so it would be quite some time before the Zoo would see any breeding behavior. But having these unique, ancient reptiles at the Zoo as an assurance population to help the conservation effort was a significant honor for the Reptile Department and the Zoological Society.