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17 August 2012

Today at Melbourne Zoo Sir David Attenborough met a species for the first time!

After years in the field producing wildlife documentaries, Sir David has seen an enormous variety of the world's wildlife, but today was his first opportunity of coming face to face with a Lord Howe Island Stick Insect.

Melbourne Zoo Director Kevin Tanner says "We all felt incredibly honored to have a visit from such a distinguished naturalist, and we were delighted to take him behind the scenes to show him our species survival breeding program.

"Our Invertebrate Keepers have bred more than 9,000 of these very endangered insects since the founding pair arrived here in 2003."

The species was wiped out on its island home nearly 100 years ago by rats that reached the island from the shipwrecked SS Makambo.

These amazing insects were believed extinct for more than 80 years, but in 2001 a tiny colony was discovered clinging to a cliff on Ball's Pyramid, a rocky outcrop just off the coast of Lord Howe Island.

A male and a female were later brought to Melbourne Zoo and so began the world's first Lord Howe Island Stick Insect breeding program.

The Australian and NSW Governments have now announced funding for a rat eradication program on Lord Howe Island, so the return of the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect to its native habitat is another step closer.

The Zoo is hoping that by 2015 Keepers will be able to start work on returning the stick insects to the wild after nearly a 100 year absence.

Lord Howe Island is often called "a paradise on earth" and it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, with two-thirds of the island protected as a National Park. The surrounding waters are also protected as a marine park.

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