New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

to the declining numbers of the creatures they sought. Cities grew up in the formerly unoccupied lands driving out the native birds and plants. Huge sheep stations arose in the plains and caused enormous change in the environment, destroying more plants and birds. Most destructive however was the importation of non-native mammals and marsupials. The Maoris had brought the “fat pig” with them as a food source. This pig was a rooting animal and created considerable destruction of the ground nesting birds. Worse though were the animals brought by Europeans: cats, dogs, stoats, and possums (from Australia), weasels, rabbits, rats and mice. The assault on paradise was bloody and final for many species who had evolved with no defenses against these deadly predators. In biology this is known as evolutionary naïveté. It is estimated that over 50% of the bird species present at the beginning of the human colonization of New Zealand have become extinct, 2 only to the species loss in the Hawaiian Islands. Evolution in New Zealand produced unique species, endemic to the country (meaning they exist only there). 90% of the freshwater fish, 80% of vascular plants, 70% of terrestrial and freshwater birds, all bats, all amphibians, and all reptiles fit into that category. This degree of endemism makes the loss of species even more catastrophic. The slaughter of the flightless moas, largest of any birds anywhere is a good example of what makes extinction so heartbreaking. The Maoris hunted these birds to extinction, long before any European had ever seen them. As a matter of fact, scientists today believe that the total destruction of the 10 species of moa was accomplished in less than 100 years after the Maoris arrived. Because the Haast’s Eagle, largest eagle in the world, was completely dependent on moas for food, it too went extinct at the same time. Moas were huge birds, the largest stood 12 feet high and weighed in excess of 550 lbs. The eagle could attack at 50 mph which facilitated its hunting of the huge moas. Besides these very large birds, many smaller species were also pushed to extermination by the exotic predators. The national emblem of New Zealand is the strange kiwi bird, a flightless creature whose feathers look more like fur and whose nostrils are at the end of its beak, the sole bird in the world with that distinction. Even this bird had almost disappeared before human beings took notice of the precipice

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