Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/97

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THE extinction of many animals that are known to have formerly existed on the earth is a subject which cannot very easily be explained, while the number of them is greater than at first sight would be supposed. Various species no doubt undergo gradual extinction by changes which deprive them of their accustomed food; but others seem to die out from unknown causes. During the historic period a considerable number of animals have been swept off the British Islands, among which are the bear, the wolf, the Irish elk, etc. In America, during the comparatively short period of its history, various species have vanished, and others are following them. The beaver, formerly so generally spread over the whole of that country, is now only to be found in remote regions. The deer and the moose are disappearing in the same manner. The bison is very much diminished in numbers, and must ere long be extirpated. The mastodon, a creature of enormous bulk, has totally disappeared, although, along with the skeletons of them which have been discovered, there are evidences of their having lived on food derived from plants which are still existing. In other parts of the world, the dodo and the moa have perished within the last few centuries; and the apteryx is undergoing the same fate.

The moa or dinornis was a huge bird, of which the remains are plentifully found in New Zealand.

PSM V12 D097 Dinornis gigantea.jpg

Dinornis gigantea.

Within recent historic times, this colony was tenanted, to the almost entire exclusion of mammalia, by countless numbers of gigantic wingless birds of various genera and species, the Dinornis gigantea, the largest, attaining a size nearly thrice that of a full-grown ostrich. From traditions which are current among the Maoris, they were fat, stupid, indolent birds, living in forests and feeding on vegetables; while the name moa seems to have been given to them from their peculiar cry. Since remains have been found in great plenty, the investigation of this singular bird is of the greatest interest to students of natural history.

It is to the Rev. Richard Taylor that the first discovery of moa remains is due, which he thus describes:

"In the beginning of 1839 I took my first journey in New Zealand to Poverty Bay with the Rev. W. Williams, Bishop of Waiapu. When we reached Waiapu,