"Awesome" is how Auckland Zoo's Don McFarlane describes a recent three-day weekend on The Noises' Otata Island with colleague Kavi Chetty releasing 80 of Aotearoa’s largest giant wētā species, the threatened wētā punga.
Constant rain and long chilly nights trekking across the Hauraki Gulf island couldn't dampen the spirits of Ectotherms team leader Don, who with Interpretation coordinator Kavi was ecstatic to be celebrating a lot more than releasing these wētā to a safe home in the wild.
"This latest release, part of our wētā punga breed-for-release programme, was to bolster the first population we introduced here in June 2016. So Kavi and I also had some detective work to do – searching the island for evidence that last year's wētā punga have made it to adulthood," says Don.
"It took 30 intense hours over three nights, but we did it! We found two adult male wētā punga in great breeding condition, proof that these stunning animals are thriving and likely breeding. Tracking cards we put out across the island also seemed to capture adult foo tprints. This is the ultimate result and such an incredible thrill! Looking at just one of these animals tracking around in the forest represents such a long journey and so much hard work by so many people to get to this point. That's what’s so awesome."