Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/362

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348
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the Linnæan Society of London listened to the reading of a curious memoir by Mr. Allis, on the discovery of a nearly complete skeleton of the dinornis. This skeleton, found by some gold-hunters under a mound of sand near Dunedin, in the province of Otago, was in an astonishing state of preservation. Cartilages, tendons, and ligaments, were still adhering to the bones; a part of the skin, still undestroyed, contained quills of parted feathers like those of the emu, a kind of cassowary; the feather part of some of these remained. A very experienced zoologist judged that the animal had very probably not been dead more than ten or twelve years. A last point for reflection, as to the existence of dinornis at the present day, is given us by a distinguished naval officer, Commander Jouan, who has made a great number of interesting observations during his long voyages. This accomplished navigator tells us that there are solitudes in Middle Island into which the Maoris, and of course Europeans, have never penetrated, and the interior of North Island is little known beyond the valleys, the bottom of which is occupied by water-courses, which allow traveling by canoes, or at most by pirogues. Therefore, great birds might still have safe retreats. If the extinction of the dinornis is not utter, it seems certain at least as to most species of the group.

Other New-Zealand birds of moderate size seem to be threatened in their turn with complete destruction in the near future. The brown-feathered apteryx, with long, curved beak and stout feet, are very much pursued since the colonization. These walking-birds, having their vestiges of wings even smaller than ostriches and cassowaries, unable to escape by swift flight, live on the ground, and merely hide themselves in holes. Dogs trained to pursue them easily make them a prey, and the poor apteryx has already almost vanished from the inhabited country; their destruction will be complete with the advance of colonization. A singular parrot, of the size of a common fowl, the strigops peculiar to New Zealand, formerly quite common, but now extremely rare, is also doomed to perish. The strigops, a true parrot in all characteristics, an owl in its habits, dull in movement and plumage, is the only nocturnal species of the parrot family, and for that reason extremely interesting to zoologists. This bird, light-green in color, streaked with black lines, flies but little; it runs along the ground and takes refuge in holes; the object of constant attack by dogs and men, it exists nowhere but in solitudes as yet inaccessible. The rarity of the native birds becoming every day more marked in New Zealand, many persons have supposed that the rapid disappearance of the most remarkable species might be accounted for by a lowering of the temperature. They have forgotten that the apteryx and the strigops do very well in the present state of the country, wherever they are not disturbed.

Among the creatures whose recent disappearance is very probable without being actually certain, is reckoned a bird of Madagascar, ex-