03 Mar Prehistoric visitors surprise students

Students in Mrs Bruce-Miller’s social studies and sociology classes had a surprise treat in store this week.  The classes were expecting a guest speaker, but they got more than they bargained for, in the form of tuataras Kōwhai and friend.

At this point students have no idea of what’s in the box.

Local iwi Ngāti Koata are the guardians of tuatara in New Zealand.  So, when Ngati Koata man Mike Elkington came to talk to the classes about Māori culture, human rights and cultural diversity, he brought the two tuatara along with him.

Teacher Lara Bruce-Miller noticed her students’ strong reactions to the iconic New Zealand creatures.  “Some of the kids thought it was pretend,” she said. “(And) some of the senior kids were shaking, they were so scared of dropping it.”

For year 13 student Erika, the experience was one that she’ll remember.  “I expected it to be really lizard-like, but it was really soft,” she explained.  “They’re cold-blooded so as soon as they settle on your arm, it’s like a hot water bottle,” Mrs Bruce-Miller added.

Bailey and Erika get hands on.

When the tuatara have time off from their celebrity schedule, they reside at Natureland.  However, the animal park does not own them and  Ngāti Koata retain their role as kaitiaki, or guardians of the endangered species.

Year 9 Nayland College student Dre (pictured above) is one of a new generation of  Ngāti Koata guardians.  He is being trained by cousin Mike to become a handler.  Dre took time out from his regular classes to help out on the day.  “We have to make sure they’re cold enough,” he said.  “Sometimes we have to turn on the air-con.  (…)  They go crazy if they get too hot.”