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Tuatara: New Zealand's Living Fossil


As you can see from this clip, tuatara aren't very active during the daytime! In fact, even seeing this young male breathe is pretty exciting - they can hold their breath for up to an hour! Tuatara are often referred to as 'living fossils' or even 'living dinosaurs' because they haven't evolved for 220 million years! Although they look superficially like lizards, they have no close living relatives and are in a family all of their own: the Spehnodons. Tuatara live only in New Zealand. They are extremely rare and had become extinct on the main three islands of New Zealand by the late 1700s. In 2005, 70 animals were released into the wild at ZEALANDIA, a unique wildlife safe haven on the edge of Wellington where a specially-designed 8.6km (5 mile) fence keeps out the exotic mammals that threaten creatures like tuatara. Open to visitors 364 days a year, ZEALANDIA is a major tourism attraction and a must-do for anyone wanting to see rare birds and reptiles like tuatara, saddleback, kiwi and giant weta in the wild. A major exhibition showcasing New Zealand's unique natural history and world-famous conservation movement opens in April 2010. ZEALANDIA is managed by the world-renowned Karori Sanctuary Trust, and all proceeds from admission fees support the Trust's extraordinary 500-year vision.

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