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Special visitor . . . Big Boy drops in to Hurunui College for a visit. Photo Supplied

BY AMANDA BOWES

Big Boy dropped into Hurunui College last week.

The very special visitor – a 30-year-old plus Tuatara – presented pupils with a once in a life time opportunity to see a the unique Tuatara up close and personal.

Big Boy doesn’t normally visit schools, but he just happened to be on an official engagement in North Canterbury with his ambassador, Nicola Toki.

Nicola’s husband, Chris, teaches at the school and when he knew she would be in the area with Big Boy, pleaded with her to call in.

“I could hardly refuse the unique opportunity to show Big Boy to the students so they could see and touch one of New Zealand’s most threatened species,” says Nicola.

Nicola, who works for the Department of Conservation as their threatened species ambassador, says Hurunui College has a tangible connection with the environment, with the work they do in Nina Valley.

“It is important that the kids get to see how unique a threatened species is. Big Boy is one of the last remaining members of the dinosaur species.

“Tuatara were plentiful in both the South and North Islands until rats arrived. Then they disappeared. The only reason we have Tuatara now is that there were off shore populations,” says Nicola.

Big Boy is over 30 years old, a teenager in Tuatara terms and lives at the Issac Wildlife Conservation Park just out of Christchurch most of the time.

The pupils asked very clever and thoughtful questions throughout the visit and some of the questions “had me stumped!” says Nicola.

She says it is important that the students understand the devastation rats, ferrets, stoats, weasels and hedgehogs have had on the species that can’t defend themselves, whether it through the predators eating the eggs, the live young or adults.

New Zealand has 3000 threatened species and in low land Canterbury, 99.5% of the indigenous plant life has gone, impacting on other species – birds, skinks, geckoes and insects.

North Canterbury and in particular Hurunui, has some very special pockets of untouched areas that give a glimpse of how the landscape would have once been. These are few and far between and need preserving with the aim of making them predator free.

Issac’s does a huge amount of work breeding endangered species of all types for release into the wild and Nicola says one project they are involved with very close to her heart is the breeding of the unique and rare orange fronted parakeet, which is found in the South Branch of the Hurunui River.

It was also once plentiful, but is now on the National Critical list.

There are only four Beech valleys in the South Island where the birds are found, the other three being in Arthur’s Pass National Park.