In October 2008, Jane and I became partners in crime…er, film. We decided we’d choose a topic that was middle ground for both of us- nothing too mountainous and nothing too Australian. Jane had the October NZ Geographic magazine in her hand, and as chance would have it, I had just been reading about some fascinating characters called Henry and Mildred… and the rest is history. “Let’s make a tuatara film!”
We soon found out how slow they were, and realised we needed a jolly good story to spice things up- otherwise we could end up with perhaps only a blink or an intake of breath in terms of tuatara activity. This is where the wonderfully rocky romance of Henry and Mildred at Southland Museum steps in.
Mildred is an eighty-ish year old tuatara, who has been part of the tuatararium at Invercargill for nigh on thirty years. Henry, a fellow tuatara, is probably over a hundred years old- we’re not sure how old they are because there is no accurate way of ageing a tuatara once it stops growing, at roughly thirty-five years of age. Scientists know for sure they can live to at least sixty years old (they outlive their researchers in most cases!), and some say they may live to be 200 years old. Anyways, back to the tuatarium- at Southland Museum, the ‘tuts’ as they are known, are doted on by tuatara guru Lindsay Hazley- the museum’s curator. Henry and Mildred are kept company by Lucy, Albert, George, Edwina, Jane…(I forget all the names), and hoardes of juveniles. There are also a few of the rare S. guntheri species. You can read more about the Southland Museum’s tuataras here.
The story of Henry and Mildred adds spice to our film because, well, it is a rather spicy tale; one which Lindsay often recounts to his astonished tour groups. These seemingly unmoving reptiles can be violent, cantankerous and amorous. Henry and Mildred were put together in the eighties to see if they would do the wild thing. Henry was however too aggressive, and a quarter of a century later, these two had still not mated. To cut a long story short, Henry had an operation to his vital parts, and got his mojo back in 2002. Then, late one afternoon in April 2008, for the first time, Henry was found atop Mildred in their enclosure- to the great delight of the Museum curator and staff. This event made headlines all over the world- read some of the news explosion here.
Six months later, Mildred had laid eleven eggs… and roughly two hundred days after that, eleven precious little tuatara hatched into this world. Go Mildred! These are now on display at Southland Museum. So, tuatara do take their time over things, but the wait has been worth it!