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October 1, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Goodbye, Honorable Spiny-backed Friend

Phoebe, Victoria’s beloved elder tuatara, was euthanized on 3 September at The Nest Te Kōhanga at Wellington Zoo.
She was accompanied by her university guardians, with representation from Te Ātiawa iwi.
The announcement of Phoebe’s passing came weeks later. According to Victoria the delay was to “give all those involved in Phoebe’s life time to carry out procedures and consult with Te Ātiawa iwi, who are her kaitiaki, and pull together an obituary”.

Phoebe was no house cat. She saw things her fellow, captive-raised tuatara did not. In the 90s she was found emaciated on North Brother Island. She wasn’t expected to survive.
To everyone’s surprise, Phoebe regained her health and lived another 30 years, joining the other tuatara in the Murphy enclosure upon its opening in 1996.
Phoebe provided more than samples for student research projects. She was known for her “sass”, referring to her self-preserving “posturing” and “other visual cues”.

Though Phoebe’s age was unknown, she was decades ahead of her enclosure-mates. Towards the end of her life, she lost her vision, leaving her defenseless against attacks from the others. In 2016 she was sent to The Nest Te Kōhanga at Wellington Zoo for the treatment of some nasty head wounds.
Allegedly, those wounds became cancerous. Furthermore, Phoebe had a number of unhealed fractures on her ribs and hind legs from her days in the wild. Phoebe got to the point where she was spatula-fed, in pain when she moved, and effectively blind. It was no life for our old lady.
Terese Mcleod, an alumna of Victoria, worked with Wellington Zoo to incorporate tikanga Māori into the procedure.
Mcleod started at university the same year as Phoebe. Representing Taranaki Whānui, she also lives among tuatara on Matiu Somes Island, Wellington Harbour, where she has been given the role to help lead and guide the euthanising of tuatara – “the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do in my environmental life”.
With this background she had the confidence to work with the Zoo hospital to “soften the environment by bringing tikanga Māori into the process”.
She asked Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu iwi), a recent university artist in residence with the School of Music, Te Kōki, to provide musical soundscape using taonga pūoro. They used kawakawa from Te Herenga Waka Marae to surround the stark operating theatre. A tuatara-sized korowai covered Phoebe. “I created a mini home like she lived in at the Vic enclosure,” said Mcleod.
As the lighting dimmed, Terese recited a karakia that she learnt while working at Te Kawa a Māui, The School of Māori Studies.
“I wish I had the experience to do this with my first tuatara, we’ll never know how a tuatara feels but for the people present I definitely believe it took the edge off.”
The sadness of our community was most apparent in the comments of the Vic Facebook post announcing Phoebe’s death, with a surprising majority alluding to the correlation between Phoebe’s passing and the university name change.
Other commenters expressed grief over our lost elder.
“Sad times. Many memories shared,” wrote commenter Sam Lock.
“I think of the koha animals offer, tuatara to me are the world’s most ancient and ultimate meditation gurus,” said Mcleod.
On Thursday, Salient sent out a press release calling on the uni to offer a proper vigil for Phoebe.
“It’s the very least the University could do to show students that it cares,” the press release read.

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