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Moa

New Zealand's giant flightless bird

moa

Photo by Sciencemag.org

New Zealand’s largest birds probably became extinct within one hundred years of humans first arriving in New Zealand, around 1300 A.D.. However, there were unsubstantiated sightings of moa by whalers and sealers into the 18th and even 19th centuries. Moa were a family of eleven species of flightless birds that were only found within New Zealand. The largest species grew up to 3.7 m (12 ft) tall and weight up to 230 kg (510 lb) – no wonder they were hunted by Maori! They were the only wingless birds known to have existed – even their cousin the flightless kiwi still has little vestigial wings hidden under its feathers. Prior to their extinction, they were the dominant plant-eater in New Zealand’s forests and only had one predator, Haast’s Eagle; the largest eagle ever known to exist and also the victim of extinction following the demise of the moa to hunting by Maori.

Kiwi were long regarded as the closest relative to the moa, but recent studies suggest that either the Australia emu and cassowary or tinamous birds from South America are likely the closest cousins. Female moa grew considerably larger than their mates and weighed almost three times as much, in some cases. Although most images of reconstructed moa skeletons or artists’ impressions of the birds show them standing upright, it is likely that they actually moved along with their head out in front, just like a kiwi does. Despite almost always being portrayed as giants, some species of Moa were actually significantly smaller, much shorter than the height of a person, and some possibly as small as chickens!

Of course, completely lacking wings the question has been asked “how did the moa get to the islands of New Zealand”. It’s thought most likely that moa were already roaming New Zealand prior to it breaking away from the super-continent of Gondwana about 80 million year ago.

Many moa bones, eggs (including over 30 whole eggs), feathers, dehydrated skin and nesting materials have been found from a number of caves and other locations around New Zealand, in particular from the dry Central Otago region.

A preserved Moa (Megalapteryx) foot from the Natural History Museum (photo courtesy Ryan Baumann)

 

Trip Reviews

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Thank You Active Adventures

Active Adventures' Winter Rimu trip allowed me to experience many things for the first time. Coming from an island of Guam, I was able to see something so different than what I normally see in my backyard. It was my first time to climb up to 1,100 meters. The climb was at Sealy Tarns which overlooked a lake, Mt. Cook village and most especially a fantastic view of Mt. Cook. It was my first time doing an overnight hike as well. We trekked through the scenic landscape towards Mt. Aspiring hut and was rewarded at night with an unspoilt sky of the Southern Hemisphere. It was so clear that we were able to see the Milky Way (another first). We also did a hike up Alex Knobb to get a good view of Franz Glacier and on the way up, we experienced so much elements in one day. We experienced hail and snow (both for the first time) and enjoyed some picturesque views the more higher we climbed.

From the beginning of the trip, Lynette and Miriam were wonderful at helping to book my trip with Active Adventures. During the trip, Mel and Gary were so hospitable and helped make the trip memorable. Mel and Gary understood that we haven't hiked at this capacity or weren't seasoned hikers, yet they remained with us at the back and encouraged us every step of the way. They helped to show the true essence of New Zealand's natural beauty as well as the friendliness and hospitality of Kiwis. This trip has been amazing and thanks to Active Adventures, New Zealand has become my favorite place in the world.

Thank you for the memories and for these experiences. <3
Analyn Palugod Review Image
– GUAM, Guam
Winter Rimu, July 2016
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