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Tuatara new father at 111 years old

Published: 12:41PM Monday January 26, 2009 Source: ONE News/NZPA

It's never too late. Invercargill's famous 111-year-old tuatara Henry is a father for the first time, with 11 offspring born since Friday.

After ignoring her for years Henry, who has been at Southland Museum and Art Gallery since 1970, finally fell for 80-year-old Mildred's charms last March.

It was a love match that made headlines around the world.

"We had over 200 overseas media approach us for photographs and information about Henry getting it off as a 110-year-old," says Lindsay Hazley, Museum tuatara curator.

Mildred laid 12 eggs in June, with 11 surviving.

"It is great to see the babies, which range in size from wee to medium, hatch," Hazley says.

"It's the completion of a love story.

"They have had quite a slow hatching process and it is early days, but they all appear to be doing well."

The babies do not need to eat immediately after being hatched and will be offered bugs in about 10 days time.

Tuatara parents do not play an active role in raising babies and are actually likely to eat anything that is small and moves, Hazley says.

Henry, who has formerly been known for his aggression, was not interested in sex and had to be kept isolated from other tuatara.

However, he got his mojo back after a cancer growth was removed from his bottom.

"All the aggression's really gone. Very compatible to the girls. He's eyeing them up all the time," says Hazley.

He is now living with three female tuatara "in great harmony" and is expected to mate with Lucy this year.

"He's had a major personality transplant."

Hazley hopes to enter Henry into the breeding programme regularly.

"It adds a whole new genetic diversity into our breeding stock, which is going to be very useful."

Hazley, with 36 years on the job, has expressed relief about Henry "finally getting it together" after looking after him for so long.

Having pioneered captive tuatara breeding, he had all but given up on Henry.

"I had him written off for about 15 or 20 years, thinking he was going to be absolutely useless."

The museum is the home to more than 70 tuatara, whose ancestors go back 220 million years.