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Friday, 19 April 2019 12:21 am

Ngāti Koata treasure tuatara as kaitiaki of stream of knowledge


THE wild Tuatara population is a little bit bigger at Zealandia.

Ngāti Koata iwi representative Mike Elkington lead a tuku taonga (gifting treasure) ceremony for five juvenile Tuatara before they were released into Zealandia’s sanctuary last month.

The Nelson-based iwi sends representatives such as Mr Elkington to wildlife centres all over the country to promote the native species.

“To Ngāti Koata the significance of tuatara is that they are the kaitiaki (guardians) of the stream of knowledge,” Mr Elkington said.

“Their third eye allows them to see into the spirit world and because of their longevity, age relates to wisdom,” he said.

The tuatara eggs hatched in 2011 after being rescued from the ground by Zealandia staff.

“Normally, tuatara lay their eggs in nests where they can incubate and be safe,” said Susan Keall, senior technical officer at Victoria University of Wellington.

“They were possibly turfed out by another tuatara who was digging a nest of her own,” she said.

Mr Elkington used Te Reo and English during the tuku taonga ceremony which was attended by about 100 people.

Mr Elkington ended the tuku taonga ceremony with a hongi and the waiata E Toru Nga Mea.

“When we hongi we press our forehead and that’s like the tuatara – symbolic of the third eye and the sharing of knowledge,” he said.

Zealandia staff picked five children to help release the juvenile tuatara into the main sanctuary, separate from the fenced off area where the eggs were originally found.

Zealandia hopes to increase the genetic diversity of the tuatara population by reintroducing them to a different part of the wildlife reserve.

There are currently more than 200 tuatara roaming Zealandia’s sanctuary.

Mr Elklington said his work with tuatara was about advocacy and promotion.

“For Ngāti Koata it’s about sharing the love, not only the tuatara physically but all the things that tuatara encompass and teach us.”

“Our priority is for the tuatara to flourish and regain its foothold everywhere it was before humans came. We want to make sure tuatara can go back to all those places,” he said.

Aside from a connection through tuatara, Ngāti Koata wants all New Zealanders to feel comfortable using the greeting “kia ora”.

“Part of what we do is about connecting non-Māori communities to kaupapa Māori things,” he said.

“When you say kia ora you’re saying you belong here. It’s the Māori language but it’s a Kiwi greeting,” Mr Elkington said.

Through Ngāti Koata, tuatara were introduced to Zealandia from Stephens Island (Takapourewa) on the northern most point of the Marlborough Sounds in 2005.

The native species had previously been extinct from the New Zealand mainland since the late 1700s.

Mr Elkington said there are now more than 30,000 tuatara on Stephens Island, the largest population of tuatara on an offshore island.

“It means a lot to Zealandia that Ngāti Koata are so passionate about conservation in their own role as well as in Aotearoa as a whole,” Zealandia spokesperson Kimberley Collins said.

Mr Elkington said Ngāti Koata is seeing a trend that local community members are getting involved with iwi to create sanctuaries.

“With the land developer’s help, they decide that rather than put in a golf course they put in a sanctuary instead,” Mr Elkington said.

Māori science lecturer Dr Ocean Mercier said crown-run wildlife centres are obligated to incorporate some kind of treaty relationship but it was great to see private ones take it up as well.

“Many private wildlife institutions are working closely with Māori to co-manage resources and native fauna such as tuatara,” she said.

Dr Mercier said aside from predators such as a cats and rats we humans are not a threat as well.

“What we really want to get back to is a state where we’re much more in tune with the environment and are each able to conserve in our own little space”

Dr Mercier said Māori traditionally knew much more about their native flora and fauna than they do now she would like to see all New Zealanders learning more.

“Organisations like DOC are doing a great job and are doing a good job of working with Māori to talk through the whole range of solutions that are available. It’s about pooling our resources really.”

Through his experience working with wildlife reserves, Mr Elkington said most New Zealanders he has met have a strong desire to save our native species.

“What I love about Aotearoa New Zealand is that we’re really quick to see something and change whatever is going wrong.”

“New Zealanders can see something that’s wrong and have a desire to change it –  A real strong desire and I think that’s where we’re headed with our conservation, with our kaitiaki.”

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is a Whitireia journalism student covering the Mount Cook area in Wellington. He has a BA in Political Science and Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
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