Saving New Zealand’s Prehistoric Giant Wētā
New Zealand is rich in wildlife and, because of its isolation, there are hundreds of plants and animals that evolved here that cannot be found anywhere else. The country’s giant wētā (wētā punga) managed to outlive the dinosaurs, but now these big insects are on the brink of extinction.
In a bid to save the species, the Auckland Zoo has launched a set of projects – including an interactive exhibition to inform and excite the next generation about the wētā, one of the world’s heaviest insects that can weigh up to 70g.
“They are fascinating and people just dismiss them. But not only that, they’re really, really important for the environment. I mean, it’s how everything works together, and without insects, we wouldn’t be here,” says Kirsty Macfarlane, a guide at the Auckland Zoo Learning Centre, who strongly believes in the importance of raising awareness among children.
“They’re the future, right? So, they’re the ones who are going to have be helping to keep insects safe and to stop them from becoming endangered. If they can really connect with insects at that young age and fall in love with them, I guess, then that will be great for our future,” she says.
The Auckland Zoo is also participating in a wētā punga breeding programme – one of the world’s only industrialised insect conservation programmes, providing the optimum light and temperature conditions for wētā”
“Once they’ve got a bit of size on them, they’re a little bit more robust, they’ve got fewer predators [and] then they’re safe to go out into the wild,” says Ben Goodwin, an entomologist at Auckland Zoo’s wētā breeding programme.
The programme started in 2012 with only 12 wētā. Since then, over 3500 insects have been released onto a few key islands which still provide the ideal conditions for them to flourish.
Original article by Aljazeera, June 15, 2018.