Extremely rare footage of a tuatara hatching has been filmed at Victoria University of Wellington.
Last to hatch, the egg was one of 23 being incubated in captivity this year as part of a joint initiative that helped to save a threatened population of tuatara from extinction.
Sue Keall, a technician in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University, says the tuatara filmed was an offspring from the programme.
"We never get to see the moment when they hatch because they do it in an incubator in the dark it just happens when we're not looking so to see it happen on film is very exciting."
Using a low-cost microcomputer and infrared camera, her team filmed seven hours of footage and then compressed it into a short video clip. The tuatara caught on video is the 255th to be hatched at Victoria.
Since the early 1990s an intensive conservation recovery plan for tuatara has been run on Hauturu o Toi/Little Barrier Island, partly-funded by The Hauturu Supporters Trust and Auckland Zoo. Ms Keall was in the first team 23 years ago and recalls searching day and night for tuatara, which are found only in New Zealand and had not been seen on the Island for 10 years.
"Amazingly we found four tuatara in a week on that first trip."
A disused aviary had to be adapted to house them and they remained in captivity for their own safety while an agreement was made to eradicate kiore (Pacific rats) from the island.
A second trip found four more tuatara and shortly after a 'tuatarium' enclosure was built to house the four male and four female tuatara.
Over the years, the tuatara laid eggs which were sent to the university to be incubated and hatched. The young tuatara were then returned to Hauturu o Toi/Little Barrier to be reared in a 'headstart' programme, where they were kept in special enclosures, safe from kiore.
"For the Little Barrier population, this programme stopped their near certain extinction in the presence of kiore, and boosted their recovery by increasing the numbers more quickly than could have happened naturally," says Ms Keall.
Hauturu o Toi is a nature reserve located 80 kilometres north-east of Auckland, which is now home to around 300 tuatara, most of which have been incubated at Victoria University.