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Rare giant weta on move to help species

Mahoenui giant weta. Supplied: Jeff Neems, Department of Conservation.

A group of rare Mahoenui giant weta have a new home after a successful translocation to the Otorohanga Kiwi House this week.

The Mahoenui giant weta is one of the world’s largest insects, measuring up to 7cm and weighing about 15 grams.

Only found in four North Island locations, they are classified as “At risk – recovering,” and face threats from introduced predators and fire.

The Department of Conservation, Mokau ki Runga Regional Management Committee, and the Otorohanga Kiwi House have been working together on a plan to protect this unique species with the first phase completed yesterday.

DOC Senior Ranger Biodiversity Jon Sadler says the translocation from Mahoenui Scientific Reserve near Te Kuiti required careful logistical planning.

It began this week with a collection of 12 wētā at the site that gave the species its name.

It involved staff from DOC, Otorohanga Kiwi House and was led by translocation specialist Kevin Parker.

“The weta live in gorse, so we had a team in the reserve yesterday searching the prickly plants for good healthy adult specimens,” says Jon.

“The wētā are taonga for Maori, so representatives from local hapu Mokau ki Runga supported us on this project and worked alongside us on the collection.

“Members of Ngati Hine and other local hapū hosted a powhiri at Otorohanga Kiwi House when we moved the insects there,” says Jon.

Jon says the work undertaken this week is the latest in a series of translocations of Mahoenui giant weta aimed at rebuilding the population of the ancient insects, which are essentially giant flightless crickets.

Jo Russell, Otorohanga Kiwi House Manager says the arrival of the weta is an exciting development.

“We’ve constructed a purpose-built captive rearing facility for Mahoenui giant weta.

“The design is based on previous successful enclosures and protocols for captive rearing of giant weta species at the Wellington Zoo, Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo,” she says.

The weta will be off display initially while further developments are made to the Otorohanga Kiwi House.

“The weta will be in a laboratory-style setting, and our plan for the future is to implement modern technology to give the public a glimpse of these amazing creatures as part of a back of house tour,” says Jo.

The 12 weta moved to Otorohanga Kiwi House are termed “founders” and are the first dozen of 36 “founders” planned to be moved to the facility over the next seven years.

Captive breeding and rearing will be done in a way to maximise genetic diversity across the batches of weta.

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