After 40 Years Of Trying Chester Zoo Can Celebrate Birth Of Ancient Reptile

Getting certain species to breed in captivity is difficult. Heck getting certain species to breed in the wild is difficult; just look at pandas! But if you thought panda breeders had it hard, spare a thought for anyone trying to breed Tuatura, an ancient reptile species.

Although it looks like a lizard, Tuatura are actually part of a separate reptilian order called Rhynchocephalia. These ancient reptiles were once dominant across the planet however all the species in the order except for one have now died out. Tuatura have witnessed the demise of the dinosaurs and of their own kind as they have gone from roaming every continent to being only found in New Zealand.

This once common species is now regarded as a living fossil and an evolutionary wonder, but perhaps it is no surprise they have survived so long when they appear to do everything in slow motion. With an estimated life expectancy of 120 years, there is no hurry for Tuatura to breed. Indeed there is no hurry for anything as they only take five breaths and just six to eight heart beats per minute.

You are probably starting to see why Tuatura are notoriously hard to breed within captivity but this December Chester Zoo was able to celebrate the end of a 38 year struggle and successfully hatched out their first baby Tuatura after a 238 day incubation period. Specialist keeper Isolde McGeorge will now be Britains first keeper to have managed this huge feat, something she has been trying to do since starting work at the zoo in 1977.

Isolde McGeorge at work in Chester Zoo/ Image by Steve Rawlins

Isolde McGeorge at work in Chester Zoo/ Image by Steve Rawlins

Despite working with this species for nearly 40 years Ms McGeorge has only witnessed their bizarre courtship dance twice. Male tuaturas will circle a female, performing a stiff legged walk reminiscent of the straight-leg marching of German soldiers.

Speaking about the new arrival at the zoo Ms McGeorge said ““Immediately, I broke down in tears. I was completely overwhelmed by what we had achieved. Now that we have all of the key factors in place, the challenge is to repeat our success and to do it again and again.” It took 12 years after pairing the parents of this birth together to produce an egg, so who knows how quickly Chester Zoo will be able to celebrate a birth like this again!


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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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