Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/98

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
near the East Cape, we took up our abode in a native house, and there I noticed the fragment of a large hone stuck in the ceiling. I took it down, supposing at first that it was human; but, when I saw its cancellated structure, I handed it over to my companion, who had been brought up to the medical profession, asking him if he did not think it was a bird's bone. He laughed at the idea, and said, 'What kind of a bird could there be to have so large a bone?' I pointed out its structure, and, when the natives came, requested him to ask them what it belonged to. They said it was a bone of the tarepo, a very large bird, that lived on the top of Hikurangi, the highest mountain on the east coast, and that they made their largest fish-hooks from its bones. I then inquired whether the bird was still to be met with; and was told that there was one of an immense size which lived in a cave, and was guarded by a large lizard, and that the bird was always standing on one kg. The chief readily gave me the bone for a little tobacco; and I afterward sent it to Prof. Owen by Sir Everard Home in 1839; and I think I may justly claim to have been the first discoverer of the inoa."

Mr. Taylor continued his inquiries among the natives, who informed him that the moa was quite as large as a horse; that these birds had nests made of the refuse of fern-root, on which they fed; and that they used to conceal themselves in the veronica-thickets, from which, by setting them on fire, the natives drove them out, and killed them; hence originated the Maori saying, "The veronica was the tree which roasted the moa." The natives further mentioned that when a moa-hunt was to take place notice was given inviting all to the battue. The party then spread out to inclose as large a space as possible, and drive the birds from their haunts; then, gradually contracting the line as they approached some lake, they at last rushed forward with loud yells, and drove the frightened birds into the water, where they could be easily approached in canoes and dispatched without their being able to make any resistance. These moa-hunts must thus have been very destructive; as, from the number of men employed, and the traces of long lines of ovens in which the natives cooked the birds, and the large quantity of egg-shells found on the western shores of New Zealand, a clear proof is given that these birds were eagerly sought for and feasted upon. Thus the poor moas had very little chance of continuing their race.

From a very interesting communication of the Rev. W. Williams, dated May 17, 1872, it would appear that the moa may not yet be entirely extirpated. He remarks:

"Within the past few days I have obtained a piece of information worthy of notice. Happening to speak to an American about these bones, he told me that the bird is still in existence in the neighborhood of Cloudy Bay, in Cook's Strait. He said that the natives there had mentioned to an Englishman, belonging to a whaling-party, that there was a bird of extraordinary size to be seen only at night on the side of a hill near the place; and that he with a native and a second Englishman went to the spot; that after waiting some time they saw the creature at a little distance, which they describe as being about fourteen or sixteen feet high. One of the men proposed to go nearer and shoot; but his companion