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MOA, MOA, TELL ME MOA



I have a horrible feeling I've used that title before. Anyway, 
regarding moa and their possible life appearance and occurrence in 
Maori legend, Derek Tearne wrote..

> One important observation made in the documentary was that there is 
> an extreme dearth of Maori folklore about the Moa.  In fact the Moa 
> is not mentioned by name in any legend,

Yes, it is indeed unusual that moa are hardly mentioned in Maori 
folklore and, when they are mentioned, the information is very 
sketchy or extremely vague. Maori mentions of big birds (presumably 
moa) were described by Best (1942) as 'a remarkable quantity of 
puerile data' and Anderson (1989) writes..

'Virtually all alleged Maori traditions about moas (sic) were 
collected more than 80 years ago and it is now very difficult to 
evaluate them. With few exceptions they were published by Europeans 
and therefore at second-hand or greater from their original sources. 
In addition, most informants, as well as the precise time and place 
of transmission, are anonymous... There is (also) no shortage of 
potential information from foreign sources when Maoris were 
relentlessly quizzed about moas (sic) in the 19th and early 20th 
centuries. If any had in fact retained genuine traditional lore about 
specific aspects of moa biology, it soon became submerged in the 
muddied pond of tainted assertion and cannot now be retrieved'.

The word 'moa' is vaguely controversial: Silverberg (1967 - _The 
Dodo, the Auk and the Oryx_, a zoological classic) thought that the 
word 'moa' actually meant 'stone' or 'raised plot of land'. The word 
for the birds (the dinornithiforms) was apparently 'tarepo'. 
According to Silverberg, the Maori took to using the word 'moa' for 
the birds because Europeans had said to them 'Bring us more (=moa) 
bones', and they assumed that 'more', .. which supposedly they 
interpreted as 'moa', was the name the Europeans used for the 
'tarepo'. I don't believe any of this is correct, and the word 'moa' 
hasn't really been challenged by other writers. Moa, so everyone 
other than Silverberg says, is Maori for 'fowl' (not 'chicken') and 
is a plural word. Presumably 'moa' was therefore used for other 
'fowl' in the past and I don't think it's coincidental that Hawaiian 
turtle-jaw geese were called moa-nalo.

> Also, by studying Maori middens it seems apparent that the Moa were
> consumed to extinction extremely rapidly (in less than 400 years) 
> and were pretty much forgotten during the subsequent 600 years of 
> Maori history.

Midden and field butchery sites prove that moa hunting was unmanaged, 
wasteful (some butchery sites reveal that only select thigh cuts were 
removed and most of the bird was left to rot) and non-sustainable. 
Moa populations were relatively low, the birds were slow K-strategy 
breeders, and they also suffered from the effects of introduced feral 
dogs, the Kiore (_Rattus exulans_ - now known to have been on NZ from 
2000 years BP), deforestation and possible avian malaria introduced 
with chickens. 

I say again, moa hunting was intensive, severe and without 
management. The archaeological record shows that no moa was killed 
more recently than 1600 A.D. 

> Intruigingly other evidence for relatively low browsing was 
> presented to do with the behaviour of various native plants.  Many 
> New Zealand trees have various stages in their life cycle where the 
> young/low stage has tangled branches for the first two or three 
> metres (or grows very rapidly to that height) and then starts 
> putting out succulent leaves once it has reached a height greater 
> than that of it's historical browser, the Moa.  

Here's what I said about moa-plant coevolution in a recent article..

'There is... a growing body of evidence suggesting that New Zealand's 
flora adapted to defend itself from moa. Common amongst New Zealand's 
woody plants is the divaricating growth habit. Plants that divaricate 
have small, sparse leaves on tightly intermeshing, tough stems that 
form a kind of 'cage' around the better part of the foliage. 
Seventeen families of New Zealand plant grow this way, and all of 
them grow at moa height and in the lowland forest and shrubland 
habitats that moa once frequented. Other New Zealand plants produce 
fibrous-leaved or leafless juveniles, spine-tipped leaves, or are 
camouflaged. We have no way of testing whether these adaptations are 
anti-moa or not!'

(NAISH, D. 1997. The diversity and history of New Zealand's giant 
flightless birds. _Mainly About Animals_ 32: 6-10.)

Similar coevolution has been proposed for the Hawaiian lobelioideaens 
and turtle-jaw geese. See..

GIVNISH, T.J. et al. 1994. Thorn-like prickles and heterophylly in 
_Cyanea_: adaptations to extinct avian browsers on Hawaii? _Proc. 
Natl. Acad. Sci._ 91: 2810-2814.

More recently this model has been criticised because it now seems 
that _Chelychelynechen_ and friends were feeding on ferns, not on 
lobelioideaens. 

> The last ten minutes were devoted to alleged sightings of Moa, one
> particularly convincing sighting was of what sounded like a smallish
> Moa in a fairly remote area.  They didn't pour too much scorn on 
> Paddy Freaney (although it was mentioned that being an Irish 
> publican called Paddy didn't help his credibility rating very much), 

Freany, Waby and Rafferty's sighting is problematic to the extreme. 
Their photo is crap and could be anything, plus, if it is of a bird, 
it's one with a very thick, not particularly long neck.. I recall an 
interview where Freaney described the neck as 'long and thin' (viz, 
inconsistent). I actually 'reconstructed' the thing in the photo as a 
bird, then added the details the three provided in interview. The 
result is a stocky-legged, short-necked chunky bird which certainly 
does not resemble a dinornithid, as virtually everyone has said it 
does (you can see this diagram in Naish 1998. _TCR_ 2 (3): 21).

Freaney at al. also provide a photo of a footprint. Again, this is 
crap and looks nothing like a bird footprint (and moa footprints are 
actually fairly well known). 

The problematic bit centres entirely on the witnesses themselves. As 
explained in the ISC report on the subject and surrounding 
media-circus (Anon. 1992), Sam Waby had recently sufferred from a 
heart attack and was under doctor's orders to avoid all stress.. as a 
result of the press claims following the sighting, his angina got 
worse. Also, Rochelle Rafferty had qualifications in park management 
and was hoping for a job with the DOC (Dept. of Conservation). 
Telling lies about seeing live moa wouldn't be that helpful for such 
a position. However, I still see the sighting as a hoax. 

There are numerous other sightings of live moa in the literature. 
Early ones (pre-1930) are generally of super-tall ostrich-like birds 
that have nasty, aggressive looking eyes or beaks. In some cases they 
range up to 20 ft in height. Post-1930 sightings tend to be of 
smaller birds. Alice McKenzie's famous sightings from the late 1800s 
and Berg's from 1928 are the most convincing, but while the witnesses 
may have had experiences with unusual birds, I cannot accept that 
they are of moa.

"Now I am the master"

DARREN NAISH
darren.naish@port.ac.uk