42 / Moa

order Dinornithiformes

New Zealand was once inhabited by some 9 species of flightless birds known as moa. While some were the size of a turkey, others were enormous, and the so-called Giant Moa was one of the largest birds ever known. They were a rich source of food for early Māori, and were probably hunted to extinction by 1500. In 1839, on the basis of a small fragment of bone, English scientist Richard Owen announced that New Zealand had been home to a bird similar in size to the ostrich. Further bones were discovered, and moa skeletons were soon in demand by museums around the world. Back in New Zealand, the moa became a popular national symbol, but was later replaced by its much smaller and distant relative, the kiwi. In 1993, strongly denying it a hoax, a publican from Arthur’s Pass claimed to have sighted a moa in the Craigieburn Range in Canterbury. Though this is one of many alleged sightings since European settlement, there is no convincing evidence that moa existed after the mid 16th century.

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