New Zealand's history is full of mysteries and secrets. It is home to the Maori people and more than 170 species of birds, of which over 80% are found nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, many of these species are now extinct due to human settlement and the introduction of invasive species.
Despite the loss of many species, there are still remnants of the unique animals that once inhabited New Zealand. The recent discovery of a 3,300-year-old, unusually large bird claw serves as a reminder of the fragility of life on Earth. This find is a small, but significant reminder of the past and the importance of preserving the biodiversity of our planet.
Over 30 years ago, the New Zealand Speleological Society made an unusual and captivating discovery while exploring the cave systems of Mount Owen. They stumbled upon a claw that appeared to belong to a dinosaur, and to their amazement, it still had muscles and skin tissue attached to it. This find was made in 1987.
Further investigation revealed that the mysterious claw belonged to an extinct flightless bird species called the moa. Native to New Zealand, moas unfortunately became extinct around 700 to 800 years ago.
Based on this information, archaeologists estimate that the mummified moa claw must have been over 3,300 years old at the time of its discovery. It is believed that the moa's ancestry can be traced back to the supercontinent Gondwana, which existed around 80 million years ago.
The term "moa" comes from the Polynesian word for domestic fowl and refers to a group of birds that includes three families, six genera, and nine species.
The sizes of these species varied greatly, with some being about the same size as a turkey and others being larger than an ostrich. The two largest of the nine species stood about 12 feet tall and weighed around 510 pounds.
Fossil records indicate that these extinct birds were primarily herbivores, with a diet consisting mainly of fruits, grass, leaves, and seeds. Genetic analysis shows that their closest living relatives are the South American tinamous, which are a type of flying bird that is closely related to ratites. However, of all the ratites, the nine species of moa were the only flightless birds that did not have vestigial wings.
Before the arrival of humans, moas were the largest terrestrial herbivores and dominated the forests of New Zealand. The Haast's eagle was the only natural predator of moas.
The Maori and other Polynesians began arriving in New Zealand in the early 1300s. Unfortunately, shortly after their arrival, the moas and Haast's eagle went extinct and were never seen again.
Many scientists believe that the main causes of the moa's extinction were hunting and habitat reduction. Paleozoologist Trevor Worthy, who has conducted extensive research on moas, appears to agree with this hypothesis.
"The inescapable conclusion is these birds were not senescent, not in the old age of their lineage and about to exit from the world. Rather they were robust, healthy populations when humans encountered and terminated them."
Regardless of the reasons for the extinction of these species, we can use their loss as a cautionary tale and work to preserve the remaining species that are at risk.