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Re: PALEONEWS:Study Says Early Humans Caused a Quick Extinction of a Bird Species
To see a photo of a few moas mounted in the Florence Museum of Natural History
in Italy surf over to http://www.geocities.com/stegob/florencemuseum.html
On Fri, 24 Mar 2000 08:55:50 Betty Cunningham wrote:
>This is a CNN custom news article.
>CNN has recently changed formats so I can not give you the URL.
>I recommend registering at cnn.com for your own custom news to
>access the article online- -Betty
>Study Says Early Humans Caused a Quick Extinction of a Bird Species
>WASHINGTON (AP) -- A huge, flightless bird called the Moa was extinct
>within just a few decades after humans first arrived at the animals' New
>Zealand homeland, suggesting that whole species can be wiped out more
>quickly than once believed.
>That's the conclusion of a new study appearing today in the journal
>Researchers said that the first humans arrived in New Zealand about the
>year 1250, bringing with them sharp stone points, wood and bone clubs,
>controlled fire and a natural hunger for meat.
>The Moas, some of which grew to 440 pounds, had no sense of how
>dangerous humans could be and quickly fell prey to the snares and clubs
>of hungry hunters, said Richard N. Holdaway of Palaecol Research in
>Christchurch, New Zealand.
>"There has been a debate as to whether humans can exterminate anything
>by hunting," said Holdaway. "Our study shows that not only can people
>hunt things to extinction, but they can do it very quickly."
>Moa previously had been thought to have disappeared over about 1,000
>years, but the study by Holdaway and Christopher Jacomb of Canterbury
>Museum in Christchurch indicates that the extinction occurred in 60 to
>Holdaway said the Moa were primed for extinction. The 11 species ranged
>from birds that stood 6 1/2 feet tall and weighed hundreds of pounds to
>turkey-sized fowl. They were the only known feathered birds without
>wings. Their fatal characteristic may have been a lack of fear of
>"They would have been very easy to kill," said Holdaway. One expert
>suggests obtaining a Moa for dinner would have been "like plucking
>fruit" for the stone-age hunters.
>A study of the bones and other debris scattered about ancient human camp
>sites in New Zealand shows that Moa was "a major source of food for
>these people, providing 30 to 40 percent of their caloric intake," said
>But that only lasted for a few decades, he said. Eventually, Moa bones
>became rarer and then disappeared altogether from the archeological
>record. Holdaway believes New Zealand settlers hunted them to death.
>"In effect, there was the removal of a complete ecosystem within 160
>years or less," said Holdaway.
>The conclusion by Holdaway and Jacomb is considered controversial among
>experts because of its speed and because some doubt that hunting alone
>is ever sufficient to wipe out whole species.
>"There are extinctions that have followed hard on the heels of human
>arrivals, but as to it being caused by hunting alone, that doesn't seem
>plausible," said Ross D.E. MacPhee, a zoologist at the American Museum
>of Natural History. "There must have been cofactors, such as disease."
>MacPhee said that vast numbers of extinctions occurred after humans
>arrived in the Americas. Animals such as the mammoth, the camel, the
>horse and the sabertooth tiger all disappeared after humans arrived
>about 11,000 years ago. But he said the extinctions took about 400
>years, not the short period that Holdaway is proposing for the Moa in
>Holdaway said that one reason for the rapid loss of the Moa was that the
>bird lived for a long period of time and reproduced infrequently. When
>humans started killing the adults and eating the Moa eggs, he said, the
>population crashed quickly.
>"We think this shows that when you push things too hard, you get to a
>point where it suddenly falls down," he said. "You may not even notice
>what is happening until it is too late."
>Holdaway said the first New Zealand settlers, Polynesians who are the
>ancestors of the present-day Maori, arrived about 1250. They brought
>with them not only weapons, but also egg-eating rats that contributed to
>the widespread New Zealand extinctions.
>Within only a few decades, the Moa were gone, along with many ground
>birds, frogs and snakes. History's largest eagle, a 35-pound bird called
>Haast's eagle, was gone.
>The settlers used fire as a weapon and tool, burning into extinction an
>entire forest that was then replaced by grassland. An estimated 40
>percent of the woody plants became extinct, said Holdaway, and this
>By the time Europeans arrived in New Zealand, in the 18th century, said
>Holdaway, hundreds of animals and plants were gone forever.
>Flying Goat Graphics
>(Society of Vertebrate Paleontology member)
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