02 17/02/2017

Rare footage of ancient reptile emerging from its egg

Incredibly rare footage of a tuatara emerging from its egg has been caught on camera at Chester Zoo.

Tuatara hatching - Chester Zoo
The rare moment an ancient reptile - known as a tuatara - emerges from its egg has been caught on camera at Chester Zoo. It is the first time a hatching has ever been seen in such stunning detail. The zoo is the only place in world where tuatara have successfully bred outside of New Zealand and conservationists at the zoo believe they have found the “winning formula” to breeding the mysterious creatures.

It is the first time the intricate hatching process has ever been filmed in such stunning detail.

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 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.

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 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.

Keepers at Chester Zoo have been caring for tuatara since 1962.

The ground-breaking footage 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.