Dinornithidae. New Zealand. 1857-1859.
These skeletons of two extinct moa species were found in a cave in New Zealand by Ferdinand von Hochstetter during the Novara expedition and brought to Vienna in 1859.
At least eleven different moa species once lived in the forests of New Zealand. They were purely herbivores, highly specialized and ideally adapted to their environment. Some species grew to more than three meters tall and weighed about 270 kilograms. For a long time, eagles were their only natural enemies.
When the Polynesians started inhabiting New Zealand at the end of the 13th century and began clearing the thick forest stands, they not only robbed the moa of their habitat, but they also started avidly hunting these trusting animals. Later moa also became the prey of choice for the Maoris. These enormous birds that could not swim were driven into lakes, rivers, and the sea and killed there. Because the eggs, weighing up to 70 kilograms, were also sought-after food, and all moa raised only a few chicks, they were quickly exterminated; the large species had almost certainly died out by the middle of the 14th century.
During his nine-month stay in New Zealand as part of the Novara expedition from 1857 to 1859, Ferdinand von Hochstetter – geologist and later director of the royal and imperial Natural History Museum – found only skeletal remains. The two complete skeletons of giant moa, Dinornis maximus, and of an Eastern moa, Emeus crassus, were assembled from the numerous finds that he brought back to Vienna.
In New Zealand rumours of moa still living in remote areas still regularly make the rounds, but even a prize for serious evidence still has not led to a sighting of the “last moa”.