Helena Hosking, of Tikipunga Primary School, asks :-

Why are tuatara, and other reptiles that were alive in the time of the dinosaurs, not extinct?

Jan Bundon, a zoologist at the Auckland Zoological Park, responded.

You have asked an interesting question about tuataras! They are really fascinating animals aren't they? As you would know, tuataras are reptiles. So are crocodiles and alligators, turtles and tortoises, snakes and lizards.

Tuataras originated around the same time as dinosaurs. All the other animals that were members of the same family became extinct about 60 million years ago. The tuatara survived for a number of reasons. Firstly, it had to do with where the tuatara lived - in New Zealand. New Zealand became an island when it split away from the huge land mass called Gondwanaland. There were no predators here at that time so the tuatara was safe and lived all over New Zealand. Their numbers on the mainland dropped however when the Polynesians and then Europeans started arriving in New Zealand. Their natural habitat changed mainly because the forests were chopped down and fires were started. Also, animals such as the kiore (polynesian rat), cats, dogs, stoats and pigs were brought into New Zealand and started hunting the tuatara and their eggs for food.

Today, they only survive on 30 offshore islands where there are no predators. They are protected by the government and often bred in captivity to help them survive for the future. Auckland Zoo is involved in a three-way program with the Department of Conservation and Victoria University in Wellington to breed tuataras. The zoo and the university incubated a number of eggs. These have hatched and are now being reared at the zoo until they are big enough to be released into the wild.