Baby tuatara discovered at museum demolition site

In a surprise discovery, four baby tuatara have been found alive and well at the demolition site of Invercargill’s former museum.
Invercargill’s resident tuatara were shifted from their museum home in February 2023 to make way for Invercargill City Council’s project to demolish and rebuild the museum, along with construction of a separate tuatara enclosure in Queens Park.
Council Parks and Recreation Manager Caroline Rain said that on Wednesday morning, a sharp-eyed member of the demolition contractor team spotted a baby tuatara in the animals’ former enclosure.
“Following the discovery, our living species team did a sweep of the former enclosure and discovered three more babies hiding in the soil,” Rain said.
“It was certainly an unexpected surprise and we are so pleased to find these resilient animals so healthy and well.
“The contractors working in the museum are doing so with the utmost care as they could come across many hidden treasures in the old build. We are so grateful they came across these experts of survival.”
Rain said that while every effort had been made to comprehensively search through the old enclosure when the tuatara were moved last year, it is highly likely these were eggs that had yet to hatch at that time.
The four baby tuatara range in size from 110mm to 120mm, and weigh from 5g to 9g, which means they are likely less than 12 months old, Rain said.
“Tuatara dig a nest in the ground to bury their eggs and they can be very difficult to find. We have gone back in to undertake a further thorough check.”
Demolition works were paused in this area of the museum until the all-clear was given, she said.
“Another exciting aspect of this discovery is that the babies were discovered in the area where the Brothers Island tuatara were housed, and these particular tuatara were not thought to be capable of breeding as they had not done previously during the time there had been a breeding programme in place.”
Te Ātiawa ki Te Waka-a-Māui Trust Chief Executive Justin Carter said the iwi “welcomed the surprising news of four baby tuatara who have tenaciously found their way into the world, despite the circumstances they have been in”.
“We are thrilled to hear of the resilience and whaikaha of our Ngā Whatu Kaipono tuatara, and our iwi look forward to re-connecting with our tuakana early next week at the enclosure opening.
“Witnessing the successful breeding and then survival of our Brothers Island tuatara after a long absence demonstrates the enduring capacity of these taonga who will withstand the test of time. This has been an incredible learning experience for everyone involved and will be spoken of for years to come.”
Mana whenua representative Evelyn Cook, of Waihōpai Rūnaka, who was on site yesterday to assist in the animals’ recovery, said it was incredible to learn that the tuatara had hatched and grown and survived without any assistance.
“We are excited to see them and we are looking ahead to how we can ensure their health and wellbeing. I also look forward to reaching a decision with our iwi partners as to where they may live in the future.”
Invercargill’s new tuatara enclosure, which is set to open to the public next Saturday 8 June, can house up to 18 tuatara.
“With 17 residents already with us, we will need to look at other homing options for these new babies when they are old enough to be translocated,” Rain said.
The new tuatara enclosure, situated in the Queens Park animal reserve, will open to the public at 10am on Saturday 8 June with a range of celebrations planned, including free face painting, tuatara talks, rock hunts, a sausage sizzle and more.
For more information and to RSVP or the event, visit