Saving New Zealand’s prehistoric giant weta

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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.

Featuring giant 3D model insects with educational games and puzzles, Bug Lab shows just how fascinating insects are [Al Jazeera]

But human-introduced pests have threatened and even wiped out many species.

One of those is the native wetapunga which has been around for 190 million years and used to be found all over New Zealand. 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 “weta”, one of the world’s heaviest insects that can weigh up to 70 grams.

“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.

Since 2012, over 3,500 weta have been released [Al Jazeera]

“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 wetapunga breeding programme – one of the world’s only industrialised insect conservation programmes, providing the optimum light and temperature conditions for weta.

“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 weta breeding programme.

The programme started in 2012 with only 12 weta. Since then, over 3,500 insects have been released onto a few key islands which still provide the ideal conditions for them to flourish.

earthrise went to New Zealand to meet the scientists bringing a dinosaur-era insect back from the brink of extinction.

Source: Al Jazeera

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