Tuatara: Chester Zoo celebrate breeding 'living fossil'

Tuatara Image copyright Chester Zoo
Image caption Tuataras have been around for about 225 million years

A reptile believed to have pre-dated most species of dinosaur has hatched at Chester Zoo for the first time.

A conservationist has been trying to breed tuatara - which are native to New Zealand - for the last 38 years.

Isolde McGeorge said tuatara, which first appeared 225 million years ago, "really are a living fossil and an evolutionary wonder."

She said she "broke down in tears" when the reptile hatched and that it was an "incredible achievement".

It followed "lots of hard work, lots of stressful moments and lots of tweaking of the conditions", Ms McGeorge added.

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"Tuatara lived before the dinosaurs and they survived after dinosaurs had died out," she said. "They really are a living fossil and an evolutionary wonder.

"To be the first zoo to ever breed them outside of their homeland in New Zealand is undoubtedly an amazing event."


Image copyright Chester Zoo
Image caption They are native to New Zealand
  • Tuataras are ancient reptiles that once flourished as long ago as 225 million years, dying out everywhere except New Zealand about 70 million years ago
  • They take only five breaths and about six to eight heartbeats every minute and only reproduce every four years, with their eggs taking a year to hatch
  • The tuatara are highly revered in Maori culture and the islands on which they live are protected, with very few people given permission to visit

Source: Chester Zoo

She said the night before the reptile hatched, she 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."

Image copyright Chester Zoo

The new arrival is the offspring of a pair that came to the zoo from Wellington in 1994, accompanied by a Maori chief.

The keeper said she had waited a "very, very long time" for the hatching, but added: "When you've worked with tuatara for as long as I have you come to realise that they don't do anything in a hurry."

A spokesman said the reptile hatched in December, but the zoo had waited until they were sure it was healthy before deciding to "go public".

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