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Returning more wētāpunga to Ipipiri

Picture of Richard Robbins

Richard Robbins

General Manager

The giants return! 

On Wednesday 14th June 2023 even more wētāpunga were welcomed back to the Bay of Islands as part of Project Island Song’s joint reintroduction programme with Auckland Zoo.

164 almost fully-grown wētāpunga (the heavyweight of the insect world!) were released onto the pest-free islands of Ipipiri. Thank you to everyone who made this possible and made it such a special day for us all.

The weird and wonderful wētāpunga, found only in New Zealand, has been around for over 190 million years, and outsizes all other species of wētā unique to New Zealand. They are in fact the giant of the 11 giant wētā species. Sadly, like a lot of Aotearoa’s endemic species, wētāpunga have struggled due to introduced pest-predators and widespread habitat modification and loss since humans arrived. 

Wētāpunga were once widespread throughout Northland, Auckland and Great Barrier. These cryptic critters were recorded in the Bay of Islands by William Colenso in 1839. However, the impact of introduced pest-predators on wētāpunga has been significant, and their distribution decreased until they were only naturally found on Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier Island).

Critical to this species recovery programme is the kaitiakitanga of all mana whenua of Te Hauturu-o-Toi, in particular, Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngātiwai and Ngāti Rehua. Project Island Song also recognise the dedication of the Hauturu Supporters Trust.

This wētāpunga reintroduction has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Auckland Zoo, the Lottery Grants Board, the Tindall Foundation and WWF-New Zealand as their Environmental Donation Manager for the Community Conservation Fund, private donors, and the generous in-kind support of our volunteers.

These amazing photos were kindly gifted by Darren Markin and Auckland Zoo.