Genesis of Eden

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Moa on raock drawing circa 500 years old, Moa fossil skeleton.

The Maori the Moa and the Great Eagle

Prehistoric New Zealand, Graeme Stevens, Heinmann-Reed, NZ ISBN 0-7900-0018-0

About a thousand years ago in Aotearoa (New Zealand) there were hundreds of thousands of gisnt rattites, several species of the Moa. Their bones litter the country crowded in great numbers around swamps. About 400 or 500 years ago the Maori hunted the Moa to extinction. The indications are from archaelogical sites that the extinction of the Moa in turn caused a severe population and food crisis, causing dietary hardship, famine and a major drop in living population, an early form of ecocrisis caused by pre-industrial human impact.

Along with the Moa went the greatest eagle ever know to fly the skies of Earth, Harpagornis moorei, whose life was also effectively ended by the same crisis of human gluttony. Despite living closer to the earth in affinity and lifestyle than modern industrial societies, Maori also burned large areas by setting bush fires and made other significant impacts on biodiversity.

Divaricate habit of New Zealand scrub forest, Haast's eagle (impression) Eagle skull with Moa bones.

The significance of the Moa in the evolution of the coutry is indicated by the fact theat ten percent of woody New Zealand species have a divaricate habit in wich certain strains exhibit a tangled shrubby pattern of growth with leves inside and branches on the exterior. This is believed to have been a major adaption of the flora to browsing by these giant birds, who ate a variety of leaves and twiggy material.

The Process continues: Species Extinction to Commemorate Death?

Maori have traditionally hunted the wood pigeon, kereru or kukupa for food and to commemorate death. Local Maori frequently invade other blocks of private land to take wood pigeons, despite the fact that they are now threatened by both humanity and stoats and rats which eat the eggs of the beautiful docile berry-eating birds with irridescent blue-green bodies and singing wings in flight which form a keystone species by transferring the forest species with larger seeds in their excrement. Despite their precarious situation, old habits die hard.

In a more recent NZ Herals article (Oct 98) it has been established that in the guise of cultural use there is a very significant poaching operation going on for the kukupa which is perhaps the most serious single threat to the existence of this species. To hide behind cultural use to commit species genocide is the lowest thing to do, because it brings the entire cultural tradition into disrepute and with it the species to the brink of extinction.


KAITAIA - A Maori elder believes it is time her people accepted that the customary eating of kukupa (native wood pigeons) is a thing of the past. The conservation convener of Te Rarawa runanga (council),. Gloria Herbert, said Far North iwi members would be asked in the next few weeks to consider at least a five-year rahui (ban) on the customary taldng of kukupa, which were threatened in the north. Although it was illegal for anyone to kill the bird, some iwi members still exercised what they considered their right under Maori lore to take a bird for a dying person, Mrs Herbert said. She said the runanga had in principle supported the customary taling of kukupa on rare occasions. The Te Rarawa kuia (elder), Dame Whina Cooper, was given a kukupa on her death bed. About five years ago, 4 young Te Rarawa man killed a kukupa for a dying uncle and was spared a conviction as the court sympathetic with his emotive. But Mrs Herbert said it was time to reconsider the runanga's position, given the plight of the slow- breeding bird in Northland. A survey of six Northland forests had revealed a 50 per cent decline in numbers between 1979 and 1993. "I think it is tune for the elders of my generation, who are now corning through, to accept that we have not been brought up with that tradition. Let our vision be not of kukupa for our bodies but for our souls." Mrs Herbert, a member of the Northland Conservation Board, said the runanga would consider the rahui when it met next month after the consultation. "My hope is that when we die, we will not be the ones to eat the last kukupa." The chairman of the Ngapuhi runanga, Rudy Taylor, said that if enough kukupa were restored, his people should be able to eat them again- But education was needed in the meantime, and perhaps breeding in captivity to rebuild the stock. Mr Taylor said the Ngapuhi iwi, the largest in the country, had no policy on customazy harvest. "But many individual hapu [subtribes] support it, and some still take the birds." Sir Graham Latimer, of Ngati Kahu, said he sympathised with Mrs Herbert's point of view but thought it unrealistic. 'There's no point in a rahui when you know it will be broken. It would be a lost cause." Sir Graham said if he was dying in the kukupa eating season, when the birds were fat on berries, he would want some. "When the old are dying they yearn for something that brings them closer to nature."