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Giant wētā released into historic home at Motuihe Island after restoration efforts

Dozens of New Zealand's most giant variety of wētā are getting used to a new home in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.

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The forests have been slowly restored over the last 20 years. Source: 1 NEWS

More than seventy wētāpunga have been re-homed on Motuihe Island as part of Auckland Zoo's breeding programme for the endangered insects.

It's hoped a population on the island will thrive and eventually be self-sustaining in the years to come. 

"We've done a couple of releases prior but what makes a bit of a change-up in this release is that these animals have been specially grown on, they're a lot closer to the adult size, really rather meaty and generally speaking the bigger an insect is the more likely it is to survive," Auckland Zoo ectotherms team leader Don McFarlane told 1 NEWS.

"We've industrialised the process, if you will, previously significant but smaller numbers have been released onto other islands before."

A few dozen supporters made their way to Motuihe Island this week to see the release, which was a rewarding spectacle for the volunteers working to restore it.

"It's one more species in the fold of what the original ecosystem would've been," Motuihe Trust ranger Bella Burgess says.

"To return them here is really important but also with any vulnerable population, the more different places that they are living, the safer they are." 

Almost half a million trees have been planted on Motuihe over 20 years.

"They have restored this from bare and barren farmland overwhelmed with rabbits to a place where this species and other species can survive," iwi advocate Pita Turei says.

"And you just have to picture in your mind bare paddocks stripped of any vegetation and think what it is today and then you'll understand why we can do this today.

"We're rescuing this species from the brink."

In the future, zoo staff hope wētāpunga can be transferred from one spot in the wild to another.

For the trip from Auckland Zoo, they were kept in temperature-controlled rooms before being carefully loaded into portions of bamboo for transport.

McFarlane says the giant wētā, wiped out on the mainland, were "horribly threatened".

"So there is somewhat anxiety obviously around packing them up and getting them across to the island safely and getting them out into the trees," he said before the big day.

New Zealand has over 100 species of wētā, including 11 species of giant wētā.

Wētāpunga like those released on Motuihe Island are the largest.