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article imageTuatara breeds outside its native land for first time at UK zoo

By Karen Graham     Feb 2, 2016 in Science
A conservationist at the Chester Zoo in the UK has been trying to breed tuataras for the past 38 years. After such a long wait,she was finally rewarded with an egg hatching, an historic first for the zoo.
The Chester Zoo has a lot to be proud of and with good reason. It has been incredibly difficult to successfully breed the tuatara, a lizard-like reptile that pre-dates the dinosaurs, outside its native New Zealand.
The Chester Chronicle is reporting that Isolde McGeorge has been taking care of the tuataras at the zoo since 1977, so she has learned to have a lot of patience.
McGeorge says the tuatara, which first appeared around 225 million years ago, "really are a living fossil and an evolutionary wonder." She adds that they were here before the dinosaurs, during the age of dinosaurs, and survived after the dinosaurs died out. Around 70 million years ago, tuataras died out everywhere except in New Zealand.
These unusual animals take only five breaths and their hearts beat on average six to eight beats per minute, according to the BBC. They don't reach sexual maturity until they are 20 years-old, and then when they do mate, they only reproduce once every four years, with the egg taking an additional year to hatch. It is fortunate that their life expectancy is about 120 years.
Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla react as a large bumblebee briefly flies inside t...
Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla react as a large bumblebee briefly flies inside the prince's jacket as he handles a tuatara during a visit to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin on November 5, 2015
Gerard O'Brien, POOL/AFP
The official birth record of Isolde
McGeorge has all the pertinent details at hand on the birth of "Isolde." That is the name given to the newcomer, in honor of her keeper. According to the zoo, "the newborn arrived weighing 4.21 grams following a 238 day incubation period – the egg from which the youngster hatched was laid on April 11 and hatched on December 5. It could grow to as long as 80cm or 31 inches."
The proud surrogate mother said the night before the birth, she spotted two "two beads of sweat on the egg." She explained, "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."
McGeorge feels very proud that the Chester Zoo has successfully bred tuatara for the first time in the world outside its native New Zealand, a monumental feat in the battle to conserve an endangered species older than the dinosaurs.
The proud parents of the new hatchling, the mother, Mustard and father Pixie, along with four other females, arrived in Chester from Wellington Zoo in 1994 ceremoniously accompanied by a Maori Chief. This was only appropriate because the tuatara is revered as a taonga (special treasure). Until it was phased out in 2006, the tuatara was featured on one side of the New Zealand five-cent coin.
More about chester zoo, tuatara, New Zealand, living fossil, evolutionary wonder
 
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