Moa remnant found in Hawke’s Bay forest


A moa bone believed to be about 700 years old, found under a rock overhang in the bush of inland Hawke’s Bay, has sparked the interest of tangata whenua and naturalists. The taonga was discovered by Pete Shaw, manager of the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, on its property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest.

Experts have identified the bone as a moa femur, most likely from a little bush moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis) based on how slender it is. NZ Birds Online describes this moa species as “the smallest and most widespread… occurring in forest throughout the North and South Islands. Slender with relatively long legs, it inhabited dense forest and shrubland. (It) was turkey-sized, lightly-built, with a rounded head, a short, stubby, rounded bill, and relatively slender legs. Its legs were bare and scaly, and it had shaggy hair-like body feathers.”

The bird it came from probably weighed in the region of 35kg and was about one metre tall.

No other moa bones have been found at Maungataniwha although Mr Shaw has previously found other moa bones in a bush setting.

“The bush is not a good place for the preservation of bones as rain and stream water is slightly acidic so they will only be preserved if they are in a relatively dry site,” Mr Shaw said. He was not prepared to speculate on why he had found only a single bone resting on a moss-covered rock beneath an overhang.

The bone has been properly analysed and recorded but it has not been formally dated and has been left in situ. It was formally blessed by a contingent from Ngati Pahauwera, led by kaumatua and Ngati Pahauwera Trust Chairman Toro Waaka.

The Trust’s property at Maungataniwha is of national importance geologically. It is where renowned palaeontologist Joan Wiffen first discovered evidence of land-dinosaur fossils in New Zealand. These fossil remains were extracted from cretaceous rock taken from the Mangahouanga Stream, which has the bulk of its catchment within this forest.

“If any one place is the epicentre of New Zealand palaeontology, Maungataniwha is probably it,” Mr Shaw said.

Maungataniwha continues to reveal a trove of fossilised riches; in June 2014 walkers stumbled across the fossil of an unusually large ammonite, a squid-like animal that lived in the sea during the time of the dinosaurs. And in March 2015 Mr Shaw discovered the fossilised jaw of a mosasaur, a large marine reptile that was the dominant marine predator during the last 20 million years of the Cretaceous period. The jaw contained the largest mosasaur tooth on record in the country.

In 2019 Mr Shaw was recognised by the Geoscience Society of New Zealand for his work on fossils in the Maungataniwha Native Forest. He was awarded the Harold Wellman Prize for the discovery of important fossil material in New Zealand, including the largest mosasaur jaw.

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About the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of fauna and flora, and to restore the ngahere mauri (forest lifeforce) in native forests within the Central North Island.

It runs eight main regeneration and restoration projects, involving native New Zealand flora and fauna, on three properties in the central North Island. It also owns a property in the South Island’s Fiordland National Park.

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