Book: Moa sightings volume 1 (print version)

Book: Moa sightings volume 1 (print version)

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Date Added: Friday 14 January, 2011

by Bruce Spittle

Review by Brian Cowley, from The Press, 22 May 2010. (The rating of good was added by B Spittle).

Books. Evidence of encounters with moa.
Moa sightings by Dr Bruce Spittle. Paua Press, three volumes, $70 each. Reviewed by Brian Cowley.

According to the conventional view, the moa became extinct some 550-650 years ago.
But did it? On January 20, 1993, a moa was claimed to have been seen in the Craigieburn Forest Park, about an hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch. It was that reported sighting which stirred doubts in the mind of Dr Bruce Spittle, from Dunedin.
Initially suspicious that the claim was little more than a publicity stunt by a local publican, Spittle delved deeper and what he learned persuaded him to spend more time in the area to investigate further.
He came to the conclusion that, improbable though it seemed, the veracity of the sighting claim could not be categorically dismissed.
His curiosity about the truth of orthodox opinion on the demise of the moa has led to this magnificent three-volume set, Moa Sightings, that questions the rapid “blitzkrieg” extinction in which all moa were gone by 1450, more than 300 years before the first Europeans landed with Captain Cook in 1769.
The books, published by Spittle’s own company, Paua Press Limited, provide many descriptions of encounters with moa during the last century and a half, relayed in an objective and dispassionate manner.
One of these researchers, Professor Atholl Anderson, had “considered the evidence from Maori recollections or traditions, apparently-recent remains of moa, and archaeological evidence and found no evidence that moa hunting continued later than 400 yr BP [AD 1600]. He found no evidence that any European saw a moa and proposed a complex psychological explanation, involving visual hallucinations in recently arrived settlers under cultural stress in a new land to account for the sighting claims.” Yet there are credible accounts that suggest some of New Zealand’s earliest European settlers certainly had encounters with a giant bird that, by description alone, entitled them to believe it was a moa.
When four English emigrants claimed they had seen a moa at Takaka Hill in 1857 or 1858, they were said to be “large, able-bodied but thorough country bumpkins and quite unable to invent such a story.” They claimed to have seen a large bird, about 2.4 m to 2.7 m, of a brown colour, with red around the eye.
An anonymous boy, later identified as William Scoble, claimed he and a party of boys, 12-16 years of age had been startled when “a big bird hurled itself across the track, breaking the file of boys into two groups.” The alleged encounter occurred as they made their way back from the Brunner coal mine in March, 1896. “It was a small moa as moas go, but too large to be any other New Zealand bird. Its body was as big as that of a fully-grown sheep, badly in need of the shears, while its powerful-looking legs, ash-grey and covered with scales, would be between 20 and 24 inches (50.8 cm-61 cm) from the knee to the ground,” the report states.
In a letter dated March 5, 1862, Julius Haast, writing to Dr James Hector, advises him to “look out for the moa. I am certain it exists there as two years ago the H(onora)ble Watts Russell when exploring with whale boats the coast killed a large Emu-like bird and ate it.” By far the largest single section is devoted to the sighting in the Craigieburn Range in January, 1993, by three trampers, Paddy Freaney, Sam Waby, and Rochelle Rafferty, who to support their claim produced a blurred (and much analysed) photograph of the bird. The widely reported incident is thoroughly examined and interviews conducted with all involved.
As the catalyst for this three-volume set, the Craigieburn conundrum and its inquest is a fitting climax to a programme of research that has produced a compelling and exhaustive study of moa sightings. After examining in detail the 1993 claim, the author says he “found no evidence that the claimants were other than genuine.”
Furthermore, Spittle concludes by disagreeing with the rapid “blitzkrieg” theory of the moa’s demise, preferring instead a case for staggered survival in remote, less accessible areas after the commonly accepted extinction date.
Brian Cowley, a writer for The Press

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]

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