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THE HUNT IS ON: Upland Moa Recovery Project

THE HUNT IS ON: Upland Moa Recovery Project

An internationally significant research expedition, lead by Otago Museum, is planned to commence next week - searching for elusive remains of the rare upland moa.

Early in 2002, two hunters in Mount Aspiring National Park discovered part of a skeleton and an egg of the upland moa, Megalapteryx didinus. These remains were found in a cave 1200 to 1500 metres above sea level on the Serpentine Range in the headwaters of the north branch of the Routeburn River. The moa remains were later brought out from the site and passed on to the Otago Museum.

The skeletal components were in remarkably good condition, being extremely clean, unbroken and without any erosion or damage to the bone surface. The egg, which was largely intact, still had some of its beautiful pale green pigmentation. It is believed that, when the moa was found, the egg was still lying inside the body cavity of the bird in a pre-lay position. Carbon dating indicates that the remains may be as old as 2000 years and certainly pre-Polynesian.

The find is very significant because of the condition of the bones, the position of the accompanying egg and the site from which it was recovered. Few complete skeletons of this species have been recovered compared to those of lowland moa species and only 15 to 20 moa eggs have ever been found. It is also believed that no Megalapteryx didinus has previously been found with an unlaid egg still in position within the pelvis. The specimen may therefore yield very important information about the egg laying behaviour, anatomy and general ecology of this species - especially if the recovery site is revisited and the missing components of the skeleton are found.

An expedition of nine people, lead by the Museum, plans to fly in to the cave site on 27 February where the moa bones were found to investigate the site and search for additional remains. The expedition includes Masterton paleobiologist Trevor Worthy, Brian Patrick and Sue Michelson-Heath from the Otago Museum, Doc officials and Natural History New Zealand who will document the expedition.

This is a very important project that will contribute to knowledge of the ecology of the moa, New Zealand's very special flightless bird.

For more information please contact: Clare Wilson, Development & Planning Manager, +64 3 474 7473 or Brian Patrick, Collections & Research Manager, +64 3 474 7476 or Ryan Helliwell, Marketing Officer, +64 3 474 7474 ext 845.

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