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Painstaking Research Brings Extinct Birds to Life

Media Release for immediate use: 15 November 2006

Painstaking Research Brings Extinct Birds to Life

58 Paintings by renowned artist Paul Martinson and expert commentary by palaeontologist Alan Tennyson breathe new life into New Zealand’s extinct bird population in a book published by Te Papa Press this month.

New Zealand’s flora and fauna thrived in its isolation for over 80 million years and developed many unique characteristics which subsequently fascinated scientists and collectors alike from around the globe.

In the last few hundred years many of these unique flora and fauna, including over a quarter of all New Zealand’s original bird species, have simply ceased to exist.

The book Extinct Birds of New Zealand by Alan Tennyson and Paul Martinson is the fruition of years of research and collaboration. Each of the 58 breathtakingly lifelike paintings and their descriptions is the result of careful drafting and re-drafting, consultation with experts from around the world, and the examination of rare museum specimens and records. All these resources have enabled Tennyson and Martinson to portray the birds, together with their habitats, and what (or who) killed them in remarkable detail.

Other projects at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa benefit from this type of exhaustive research. The current exhibition Blood Earth Fire contains life-like models of the birds like the flesh-eating adzebill, and the soundtrack includes the recreation of calls from 5 extinct birds; moa, huia, New Zealand goose, Finsch’s duck and whekau. The fossilised remains of trachea rings were used to help determine the sound these birds would have made: the longer the trachea, the deeper the sound would have been.

The demise of these birds is largely attributable to the arrival of foreign predators and most dramatically to the arrival of humans themselves. “13 alien predators helped drive these bird species to extinction,” says Tennyson, “but human hunters exterminated more birds than any other single agent.”

Extinct Birds of New Zealand is a vital resource for expert and amateur ornithologists, art-lovers, teachers, students and anyone passionate about how best to preserve those species which remain.

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