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Chester Zoo Releases Rare Footage of Tuatara Hatching

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Incredibly rare footage of a Tuatara hatching from its egg has been caught on camera at Chester Zoo. It is the first time the intricate process has ever been filmed in such stunning detail.

The egg, from which the youngster hatched in the footage, was laid on April 11, and it hatched on December 5, 2016.

The Tuatara is an ancient reptile that has lived on the planet for more than 225 million years…older than many species of dinosaur.

Last year, reptile experts at Chester Zoo became the first in the world to successfully breed the rare animal outside the species’ native New Zealand.

Now, six more have hatched at the Zoo and leading keepers to believe that they have found the ‘winning formula’ when it comes to breeding the mysterious creatures.

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4_Rare footage of ancient reptile hatching caught on film (2)Photo Credits: Chester Zoo

Only a handful of zoos worldwide work with the species, and the new arrivals are a huge boost to the global population of the reptiles, which are notoriously hard to care for. The Tuatara takes more than 20 years to reach sexual maturity and only reproduces every four years.

Isolde McGeorge, reptile keeper, said, “It took nearly 40 years of research and dedication to achieve the very first breeding of a Tuatara outside their homeland in New Zealand last year. Now, after waiting all that time for the first to successfully hatch, six more have come along.”

“Hatching these remarkable animals is real testament to the skill and expertise of the herpetology team at the zoo. Hopefully this means we’ve found the winning formula in terms of breeding the species, which has been a mystery to science for so long. Tuatara lived before the dinosaurs and have survived almost unchanged to the present day. They really are a living fossil and an evolutionary wonder.”

“Breeding the species is an amazing event and almost as special is the fact we’ve now caught a Tuatara hatching on film for the first time. It’s very, very special footage - footage which has barely ever been recorded before, certainly not in this level of detail. We will be able to learn more and more about these amazing animals from this footage. It’s incredibly unique and a real privilege to be able to witness something so rare.”

Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) are found wild only in New Zealand and are the last surviving species of its group, commonly known as beak heads, or Rhynchocephalia.

Around 70 million years ago the species became extinct in Europe, Asia, North and South America and Africa. To this day, conservationists aren’t sure how and why they were wiped out. Since then, Tuatara have only survived in New Zealand, where the animal now has iconic status. It is steeped in Māori culture and is highly revered, with the islands on which they live now protected and which very few people are granted permission to visit.

One of the most curious body parts of the Tuatara is a ‘third eye’ on the top of its head. The ‘eye’ has a retina, cornea, a lens and nerve endings, yet it is not used for seeing.

Tuatara do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 20 years old. Tuatara are the only reptile that do not have a penis, instead they mate like birds. In courtship, males circle the females before their crest becomes erect, leading to the performance of a “Stolzer gang” (a stiff legged walk).

Scientists estimate this species can live for up to 120 years.

Chester Zoo now cares for 13 Tuatara: one adult male, five adult females and now seven new arrivals!

Chester Zoo first began caring for Tuatara in 1962. The species was first protected by the New Zealand government in 1895.

The groundbreaking footage from Chester Zoo was captured by cameras filming for series three of “The Secret Life of the Zoo”, which starts at 8pm on Tuesday 28 February on Channel 4 in the UK.

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