Oliver the tuatara lives on - as a robot

A one-of-a-kind robotic model of a tuatara has been donated to researchers to assist them in establishing the mating habits of the prehistoric creatures.

Built by Weta Workshop, the model will be used by researchers from Victoria University for the first time next month on Stephens Island - where the largest population of tuatara is situated.

Jennifer Moore from Victoria's School of Biological Science approached Weta because she needed a realistic, scale model tuatara to use in testing social dominance and aggression in wild tuatara, in the hope of better understanding the reptiles' mating habits.

Ms Moore anticipated the extremely life-like model would elicit intense reactions from wild male tuatara, who are known to fight very aggressively at times.

"We have recently learned that mating in tuatara can be dominated by very few males. This has potential impacts for population maintenance, from a genetic standpoint. If we can better understand how male tuatara establish their dominance, we may be better able to select individuals to start new populations in the future," she said.

The model was cast from a male tuatara called Oliver who died early last year in captivity at Victoria University.

University tuatara expert Professor Charles Daugherty, expected the model to enhance studies into tuatara behaviour.

"Results from research using the new 'robotic Oliver' would significantly enhance conservation efforts for tuatara, as a good understanding of the mating system and behavioural interactions is essential for captive breeding, reintroductions, translocations and ultimately, persistence of tuatara populations," he said.

Weta Workshop director Richard Taylor donated Weta's services to craft the model and production was overseen by Gino Acevedo, the prosthetics and visual creature effects art director, with input from many other talented artists at Weta.

- NZPA

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