The Japan Times
March 25, 2000

First humans rapidly ate moa to extinction

WASHINGTON (AP) The first humans arrived in New Zealand about 1250 A.D., bringing with them sharp stone points, wood and bone clubs, controlled fire and a natural hunger for meat.

They found on the two pristine South Pacific islands huge numbers of moas, flightless birds that ranged up to 198 kg.

The animals had never before seen people and, thus, had no sense of how dangerous humans could be. They easily fell prey to the snares and clubs of hungry hunters.

A new study suggests that the result was a quick extinction for all 11 species of the moa, along with the disappearance of many other New Zealand plants and animals.

In a study appearing Friday in Science, two New Zealand researchers suggest that humans may have killed off all of the moa, perhaps in only about 60 years.

"There has been a debate as to whether humans can exterminate anything by hunting," said Richard N. Holdaway of Palaecol Research in Christchurch, New Zealand. "Our study shows that not only can people hunt things to extinction, but they can do it very quickly."

Moa had previously been thought to have disappeared over about 1,000 years, but the study by Holdaway and Christopher Jacomb of Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, shows that the damage was done within only decades.

"They would have been very easy to kill," said Holdaway. One expert suggests getting a moa for dinner would have been "like plucking fruit."