Photo: Steve, January 2013
Spoiler alert – If you haven’t read Ride yet, then maybe leave reading this blog until you have.
I did consider that a few people would ask me what happened to Steve once they had read Ride. Recent events have encouraged me to answer this question sooner than later.
Just before the publication of Ride I got word that Steve had died. I was devastated, lots of tears. Last minute before printing, I chose to include a photo and Steve’s passing day in Ride as a way of honouring him.
This last weekend someone who has read Ride asked if Steve had died in my care – maybe from neglect! I already knew I had to write about his passing but this comment made me realise I needed to explain the whole story further….so…here goes a reasonably abbreviated version but I feel it may be quite long anyway….
What happened to Steve?
On the eve of the day Dylan died we were sitting around the kitchen table, a few of us, waiting for the funeral director to arrive. I remember saying out loud ‘Steve. Oh god I need to do something about Steve’, my partner of just a few months said; ‘I can sort that’ and I answered; ‘No, it’s OK, he’s ok here for now I can look after him.’
That same “partner” went home that very first night and emailed DOC and gave them all the information he thought he had about Steve and how I illegally had him. When I found this out I felt stabbed in the back and betrayed. He told me he was “righting a wrong” and I told him to “fuck off out of my life”.
DOC duly contacted me and I told them to back off and wait.
In early March a representative from DOC came to uplift Steve. This man had worked with Tuatara for over 20 years. He was very impressed with Steve’s condition and his enclosure habitat as well as my knowledge of Tuatara and their needs. He told me he thought he was going to find a very sick Tuatara.
As it transpired that day, I taught him a few things about Tuatara that he didn’t know.
Steve had not long moulted and his colours with his new skin were gorgeous. He was indeed “well dressed” when he left home.
There were a few of us gathered to say goodbye to Steve – it was emotional and I could feel Dylan’s pain at seeing what Steve’s departure from his home was doing to us. For me it was another wrench, another part of Dylan leaving…
Steve gets a new “home”.
The plan was for Steve to spend some interim time at Nature Land, a small local zoo which had a small population of Tuatara, before going to an ‘inland island sanctuary’ north of Dunedin in the south of the South Island. I had asked if I could be there to see him released into his new “wild” home. The DOC representative thought this would be possible.
Steve’s first months at Nature Land were spent in a small glass tank – nothing like the outside enclosure he had at home. Eventually Steve was moved to another better, but still not amazing, enclosure in Nature Land and the decision was made by – someone – to keep him there.
I used to visit him. The keepers would say they hadn’t seen him for days, I would stand by his enclosure and call quietly to him and he would come out and look at me.
This May I saw a posting on facebook talking about a total of 4 Tuatara having died in Nature Land over the last two years, with the most recent two, having been this year. I went straight to Nature Land. I hadn’t visited Steve for a long time – more than two years – and he had been on my mind to visit. The management of the place had changed through the years and the last time I had visited him I had felt unwelcome. This time I was greeted by people who I didn’t recognise but quickly found out that one of the two tuatara that had died this year was Steve – or Tahae – as they had called him. It is a Maori word meaning –rob, steal, stealthily, thief. Steve died at Massey university where he had been sent when they realised he was unwell.
I asked as many questions as I could. I found out he was anaemic and had a haematoma and that at least one of the other dead Tuatara had the same symptoms. When I returned to my van I phoned Leslee, and cried over the phone with her. Just numb.
Local Iwi are the appointed guardians of creature such as Steve – I asked them if I could bury Steve with Dylan – they said no. I asked to be invited to the burial. They have to date not responded to my request.
This last week the result of the autopsies on the Tuatara have been made public.
The Tuatara had the poison brodifacoum in their blood and, at least two, if not all four, died from secondary brodifacoum poisoning. Brodifacoum is a common poison in NZ – it is sold as rat poison and can be brought over the counter. Those of us who are against its use, know how poisonous and damaging it is – lasting in the soil and in the food chain to act as a secondary poison vector. The poison kills by thinning the blood. It is an anticoagulant. It is thought the affected Tuatara died from eating poisoned insects.
Steve, (and the other dead tuatara)being cold blooded, would have died long and slow over a period of weeks or months.
Processing the loss
As I only found this out a few days ago I am still processing exactly what I feel. So far I know I feel a deep sadness for Steve’s suffering and anger towards those that could not/did not care for him properly. I feel frustration for what I consider is the ignorance of many people about this poison and how much those same people disregard those who are concerned about its use.
I do know Steve’s passing will have the same measure of relevance as his arrival.
All things have a balance and it is obvious to me at least that his departure will match the significance of his arrival – we are just yet to see/feel/hear exactly what that may be.