The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, or Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ New Zealand to the CFZ global family.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Invaders helping NZ ecology

Invasive rats and recent colonist birds partially compensate for the loss of endemic New Zealand pollinators, according to the Proceedings of Royal Society of Biological Sciences.

"Two recently arrived species in New Zealand, the invasive ship rat (Rattus rattus) and the recent colonist silvereye (Zosterops lateralis; a passerine bird), at least partly maintain pollination for three forest plant species in northern New Zealand, and without this compensation, these plants would be significantly more pollen-limited..."

Who'd have thunk it?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A New Zealand Lake Creature?

Lake Coleridge is near Canterbury on the South Island of New Zealand and is 3 km wide by 17 km long. In the 1970’s sightings started to be reported of a monster in the lake. It was blamed for dragging away fisherman’s rods. The locals named it Lakey.

Then in 1972 the creature was cited as the culprit in the disappearance of a fisherman when the old man’s upturned boat was discovered but no body surfaced. There was blood in on the sides and the inside of the boat, indicating a struggle. Police decided no foul play had been involved and that the old man had slipped, hurt himself badly, then fallen into the water. The absence of a body was noted as "strange, but not implausible"

In1975 two women reported seeing a creature’s head rise up from the lake. It was described as wolf like in appearance but without any visible fur. Horrified they screamed, and the monster slunk back into the water. Also in 1975 a teacher and his wife were boating and observing the birdlife on the lake surface when they witnessed a creature. It grabbed and ate a large water bird from a flock resting on the surface.

In 1976 a farmer on the west side of the lake began losing sheep to some predator when they went to drink by the waters edge. While watching the flock he noticed a dark shadow just below the surface of the water when a lamb moved to take a drink. He shouted, and the huge shape disappeared .

In 1977 several witnesses saw a creature said to be 16 feet( 5 metres) long, rolling around on the surface, snapping its jaws. It was described as grey with four flippers and quite "fish-like".

A hunter from Otago decided to try and kill the creature . He had a boat rigged with radar and harpoons. After no luck on the surface he decided to go into the water to look and dived into the lake in a wetsuit. He found the wreck of a yacht, which was lying on the bottom of the lake. As he turned back up to surface, he was struck in the ribs by something powerful. He left and did not return

In 1979 some fisherman on the lake saw the creature. It seemed to stare at them with its head partially above water. For some time it swam in slow circles, not taking its eyes off the men, then sunk below the water. The next morning a trail was found in the mud, like something dragging itself along.

Robyn Gossets discusses the creature in her book New Zealand Mysteries. Gosset writes that the fisherman around the area tell stories about 'Lakey' the enormous, but seldom seen, sea animal that lives in the lake, capable of tearing a mans rod off him and creating huge ripples on the Lake surface.

There seem to have been no recent sightings and theories about Lakey being a leopard seal to a sturgeon or even a bunyip abound. Leopard seals are quite aggressive but whether they would venture this far inland and stay there is debatable. A 10 feet (approx 3 metres) leopard seal was caught in 1870, in the Shoalhaven River in Australia. Plus they don’t normally have four flippers that are evident. You would normally only see two front flippers. They are solitary animals said to come onto the ice to mate and then return to the sea. It has been known for them to pull a human being under the ice and at least one young researcher was killed this way. If it was a leopard seal it must have either died or returned to the sea. An interesting story and one which may simply be an out of place animal rather than a cryptid.

The only problem I have with these accounts is that alot of New Zealand Lakes have no sea access, this means any such creatures taking up residence would have to travel considerable distances over land, and on four flippers though not impossible, must have be a feat in itself.
Though there are rumors of a smaller than prehistoric size species of Mosasaur frequenting New Zealand waters and if this were the case, and one found itself somehow in a lake these are the sort of reports we would expect to get.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sirocco is one in 129 (Kakapos, that is)

He's one of the most popular birds in New Zealand, and as one of just 129 endangered Kakapos in existence, one of the few night parrots left, making him very special indeed.

Sirocco shot to international fame after getting frisky with British celebrity Stephen Fry and zoologist Mark Carwadine in the acclaimed TV series Last Chance to See in 2009. Sirocco found Carwadine's hair inexplicably attractive, prompting Fry to exclaim: "You are being shagged by a rare parrot!"

Bizarrely, bidders on Trade Me recently clamoured to buy a unique piece of Sirocco-related history - his rejected 'pine chews' being sold on the popular online auction site. The 'parrot puke' eventually fetched $400!

The posting stated: "Not to be found anywhere else on the Mainland - this is a truly unique item. Impress your friends. Perturb your mother in law. Made of tenderly masticated pine needle and infused with the saliva of an extremely rare native parrot - and not just any old rare native parrot but Sirocco the famous head shagging parrot!"

Well, there you go. It was all for a good cause though - the money will be used to fund kakapo recovery.

For those who can't meet Sirocco in the flesh and feathers, you can watch him on this video:

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Naturalist and moa searcher's library up for auction

A collection of more than 600 rare books dubbed the "last great private library" in New Zealand goes under the hammer in Auckland next week. The books, collected by Auckland naturalist and scholar Arthur Pycroft, who died in 1971, include a complete set of Cook's Voyages, published in the 1770s, a first edition of the first novel published in New Zealand, Taranaki: A Tale of the War by Henry Stoney (1861), and a two-volume set of Captain Scott's journals from his last expedition, published in 1914.

Former Auckland auctioneer Brian Grosinski, who has written the catalogue for the auction, recalls that the most recent significant book sale, the Henderson Collection, from Wellington, was in 1983, nearly 30 years ago. "The Pycroft Collection is really the most important sale in New Zealand since then and there probably won't be another one like this one. It's the last of the old-fashioned gentleman-amateur collections."

Pycroft, who was born in 1875, was educated at the Church of England Grammar School in Parnell and Auckland Grammar School, before joining NZ Railways at the age of 15. He eventually became a stationmaster in the Bay of Islands and rose to a senior management position in Auckland. It was a time when a career with the railways was highly regarded.

But natural history and ornithology (along with taxidermy) were his true enthusiasms, interests he developed during explorations of Hen Island, Little Barrier, the Kermadecs and Melanesia.

He also joined the Auckland Institute at Auckland Museum in 1896, where he served on the council for more than 40 years.

Although Pycroft took long periods of leave for his explorations, he really came into his own at the age of 50, when he received a substantial inheritance from family in England. He retired - his family home was a 4ha block in St Heliers, in a street now called Pycroft Place - and went at his collecting and research apace. He was a member of the "Moa Searching Committee", which involved searching for skeletons at various sites in New Zealand, and a newly discovered species of petrel was named in his honour: Pterodroma pycrofti.

From today's perspective, Pycroft's taxidermy skills had a downside. In 2006, Auckland artist Hamish Foote had an exhibition called The Feathered Drawer, which included a painting called Pycroft's Supper, a narrative of an actual incident from about 100 years before when a bird hunter brought the carcass of a huia to Pycroft. He skinned the bird, then asked his housekeeper to cook it for his supper. Within two years, huia had vanished from the land forever.

The Pycroft auction also features albums of photographs of early Auckland and Northland, an original photograph of the Discovery signed by Ernest Shackleton, a collection of rare books recording Pacific voyages and anthropology, shipping and maritime history, and early New Zealand exploration - including the extremely rare Rambles in New Zealand by John Carne Bidwill (1841).

Another category includes chronicles of the NZ Company, emigration and the Wakefield Settlements, before moving on to colonisation, missionaries and the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori history, rights and land purchase, and early Maori language publications, including an 1838 New Testament and an 1852 translated version of Robinson Crusoe. Lot 228, Te Tohunga, a 1907 German translation of ancient Maori legends and traditions by Wilhelm Dittmer, features a chamois leather cover adorned with a "fine coloured full moko face" on the cover.

The final day of the sale offers some fine examples of New Zealand natural history and botany, including seven books by Buller, with whom Pycroft corresponded, mountaineering and sport, early tourism, children's books and Auckland newspapers from 1844-74.

The catalogue reveals some intriguing secrets. Lot 384, in the mountaineering section, is The Conquest of Mt Cook written in 1915 by the first woman to climb the mountain, Australian Freda du Faur. A newspaper obituary inside the book reveals that on her return to Melbourne, poor Freda succumbed to "introspection and delusions".


What: The Pycroft Collection of Rare Books

Where and when: Art + Object, 3 Abbey St, Newton, November 2-3 at 6.30pm

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Big Feet Musing

I was sitting here doing some thinking, please note jokes about seeing the smoke rising I get enough of that from my family, and it occurred to me why the many varied types of Sasquatch, Bigfoot or whatever you want to call the big guy may act more communally than we originally thought.

I have often heard mentioned that there have been no bodies found, no gunshot victims after shooting lying there wounded and generally the creatures are only seen and very small numbers, sometimes between one and three individuals.

As like a lot of communal animals these creatures post guards which remain unseen and quite probably keep an eye on the group. These would generally be larger males forming an outer parameter but remaining within sight as a lot of Baboon groups do, getting an eye over feeding females and in younger members of the group.

Should anything go wrong it may be up to them to remove any casualties and dead bodies.

Often when people have encountered Bigfoot quite often noticed and photographs afterwards that they seem to be a lot more animals hiding in the general vicinity.

The reason we do not find individual bodies is I don't believe these creatures move about by themselves but are always accompanied by others.

Perhaps who knows the creatures that we actually see are a distraction allowing others to get away? After all the philosophy may be it is better to sacrifice one individual then the whole group.

Vocalisations, tree knocking and the leaving of markers seem to indicate that these are very social creatures.

The strong smell often encountered with these creatures may be a means of notify us of the kind of exactly where they are, as well as un-nerving more threatening creatures encountered.

Such a defence would serve no purpose to a predatory animal as the prey would be able to smell them and they would lose the kill.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Orang pendek trail heats up

With this latest discovery - an article from 1958. If this is discovered it could open a lot of information on other cryptids. more on this at some other time.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Funny world we live in.

Over the last couple of days I've been working on a thesis that I've promiosed Jon for about a year now, Due to my marraiage breaking up last year it just didn't happen. Well in all honesty, I'm glad, because as I started writing it, a whole new idea came to me which seemed to make a whole lot more sense than what I was trying so desperately to prove.

I think they call them eureka moments, (but no, I definitely did not run from the bath naked and screaming. Not that anyone would notice round here). So in light of this it seems to me that sometimes we are made to wait for the right penny to drop at the right time.

We have been really busy round here, and now have a sun room which will house my carnivorous plant collection once I get it back to what it once was. The Whitebait are growing rapidly and making excellent subjects for studys. Nelso the NZ CFZ Mascot Chiclid has learned to go for the hand not the food (its bigger) so we are in manners-training at the moment.

Got the first lot of stinging nettles in for the butterfly project, so I'm really chuffed about that and can sit in the study and watch the plants. I am trying to work on bits and bobs, but sick parents and being unwell myself is not helping. I am getting there, but it is a very very slow process.

Ohhhh yes this mind blowing thesis... well you'll just have to wait until the end of the year, and buy a yearbook to find out - hhmmmmmmmmmmmm. But it will be well worth it I can assure you.

Study Finds Aquarium Fishes Are More Aggressive In Reduced Environments | Goldfish Angry? Study Finds Aquarium Fishes Are More Aggressive In Reduced Environments

The Jesus bird returns

Last updated 05:00 25/09/2011

JOHN COWPLAND Photographer and birdwatcher Brent Stephenson on a Napier beach.

Relevant offersNo one knows how many are left or where they breed. But we now know that the New Zealand storm petrel lives. Catherine Woulfe with the remarkable story of how a bird 'extinct' for 150 years came back from the dead.

The New Zealand storm petrel flutters along the surface of the water like a big butterfly, slapping the water with its feet – a habit that has earned all storm petrels the nickname "Jesus birds".

It doesn't follow boats. It is quiet and lives almost its whole life at sea, landing only to breed, and then only at night. It looks a lot like one of the world's most common seabirds, Wilson's storm petrel. All of which explains, perhaps, how for more than 150 years, it did not officially exist.

But it was there: DNA from birds caught in the Hauraki Gulf has just been matched to tissue fragments of the "extinct" species, sent from museums in England and France. So last month, eight years after the bird was first spotted near the Mercury Islands, this line appeared in an academic article: "We can therefore confirm that the previously presumed-extinct New Zealand storm-petrel has indeed been rediscovered."

WE'RE AT this point thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences. The most fortunate is that this bird survived for a century and a half with no deliberate help from humans, from a population base some experts believe to have been quite low. (Only three museum specimens exist, the last received in 1895, which could indicate that no one collected them, or there were not many there to collect.)

No one knows how the birds managed this. Perhaps they existed in reasonable numbers in the Hauraki Gulf the whole time, but we've only just noticed them, thanks to changes in camera technology, and the rise of the "drift and chum" method of attracting birds to boats, which involves hanging bags filled with pummelled fish over the side to create a slick of food.

Perhaps the birds spent those 150 years elsewhere and moved here due to climate change. Or, perhaps they clung to survival in tiny numbers on a rock in the gulf, and shifted to a bigger island in the past decade in the wake of DoC's rat-eradication programme.

This is the theory favoured by Ian "Sav" Saville, a Hawke's

Bay-based birder who on January 25, 2003, became the person to rediscover this enigmatic little bird.

Eight years later he's still enchanted by it: the petrel is the official mascot of the bird touring company he runs with photographer Brent Stephenson.

On that day, Stephenson, Saville, and about eight others chartered a fishing boat out of Whitianga. The plan was to have a nosy at seabirds in the Hauraki Gulf.

"It was a complete fluke," Saville says. "We saw heaps and heaps of the common storm petrels, the white-faced storm petrels, and then I just saw this little black and white thing..."

Saville called out "black and white storm petrel" and Stephenson, beside him on the top deck of the boat, managed five photographs as the bird raced toward the boat, did one quick lap, and raced off again.

Ad Feedback Four of the photos were of poor quality. But the fifth was a stunner: it clearly showed a white belly streaked with darker markings. The pair knew as soon as they saw it on the screen that this was odd. They emailed the photos to all the bird experts they could think of, all over the world, who told them what it was not. But they still didn't know what it was.

"It was not a bird that was on the radar of any birder," says Stephenson. "Really, the only people who knew about it were seabird taxonomists and museum people."

In Wellington, one of those people, Te Papa paleantologist Alan Tennyson, happened to hear about the mystery bird. The picture rang a bell – it looked like a bird from a book he'd read in high school – so he jokingly emailed Saville and Stephenson: "How about this for a suggestion way out of left field... it's Oceanites maorianus – the plumage matches!"

Saville didn't get the joke. He didn't know what Oceanites maorianus was [the Latin name was later changed] and his birding books were no help either: the bird was noted only as an afterthought, alongside entries on other storm petrels.

"The strange thing is nobody thought of it as an extinct bird," Saville says. "It had been sort of discarded. In the 1930s the

pre-eminent seabird experts of the world decided, off their own bat, that this thing wasn't a distinct species, that it was just an aberration of something else. And so it just got sort of put to one side and forgotten."

Soon after that, Saville bumped into birding guide Ian Southey, who had by chance just inspected the three skins in the museums – and taken photographs.

"He sent us the photographs and sure as eggs, there it was."

Saville and Stephenson published the story of their "possible sighting" in a UK birding magazine and walked on air for the next few months.

But they were laughed out of town by many experts, Saville says, and failed to spot the black-and-white bird on two subsequent outings in the gulf.

THEN, IN November 2003, British twitchers Robert Flood and Bryan Thomas had a dream day on the water: 20 minutes after starting their "drift and chum" just north of Little Barrier Island, the first black and white storm petrel appeared. Over the next 90 minutes, they photographed and filmed about 20 of the birds.

That was enough for the global conservation body Birding International to classify the rediscovered NZSP as "critically endangered". But DoC deemed the bird "data deficient". The New Zealand storm petrel is alone in this limbo-like category. Here's a catch-22: the bird will not be shifted out of that category, or attract any serious DoC funding, until we know where it breeds and how many are left. And to answer those questions costs money.

Even the new DNA evidence, which cleared up years of uncertainty over the bird, will not be enough to shunt the bird into a more useful category.

Dr Bruce Robertson, who led that work, was able to slot the bird into the storm petrel family tree – as a distinct species, not some freaky-feathered offshoot of another bird. He recommends it be renamed Fregetta maoriana, and says the DNA also suggests the population is not closely

inter-related. In his academic article, Robertson is assertive and optimistic: the DNA analysis will make the petrel "a conservation priority and allow conservation managers to start planning a species recovery program," he writes.

On the phone he's less confident.

"Yeah, I don't know." He sighs. "Conservation dollars are being slashed back... It could actually take quite a lot of effort.

"It could well be that they've just survived on some small rockstack somewhere that didn't have rodents or predators, so it might be like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

Stephenson, too, sounds jaded: "It's a very hard task to get money for this species. It should be a priority, but seabirds in New Zealand are receiving less and less funding... It's not a cute cuddly kakapo, or a big sort of in-your-face takahe, it's a little black and white bird that flits around at sea."

That little black and white bird is doing its very best to prove itself. During the two summers after its big reveal, it was spotted by at least 31 birdwatching groups in the gulf. Stephenson: "You can now go out pretty much any day in the summer, and see these birds – almost within sight of the Sky Tower."

In November 2005, one particularly determined bird flew into a boat and fluttered around fisherman and seabird expert Geordie Murman, one of the few people in the country who would recognise it.

Murman was having dinner at the time. He put the bird in a box and called a team of scientists who had chartered his boat for the next day, intending to observe the birds. The captured bird was measured and tagged, and the team took samples of its feathers and lice.

Over the next four years, 12 more birds were caught and released, but attempts to track them back to their breeding colonies failed, as none of the birds had the telltale "brood patches". These patches are areas of plucked down on the belly, which the birds use to transfer heat to eggs. To date, no one has caught a New Zealand storm petrel with one of these patches.

On the other hand, a few years ago the birds were spotted over land, at night, on a remote island in the gulf. And years of work by ornithologists, DoC staff and volunteers has narrowed the core search area down to the Mokohinau Islands, Little Barrier Island and Poor Knights Islands.

This month, Birding International gave a group of seabird experts from DoC, Forest & Bird and universities $20,000 to continue the search. This summer, they'll again be out on the water trying to catch the little bird and check for brood patches. And recording devices are set up on some of the islands, running all night in the hope a New Zealand storm petrel will pipe up.

The only problem is, they don't know what it sounds like.


Very little is known about the New Zealand storm petrel. Flocks of up to 30 have been seen but we don't know how many are left or where they breed. Each bird weighs about 35 grams and is roughly the size of a sparrow. Over summer they are based in the Hauraki Gulf. Late last summer, a handful of birds were spotted off New South Wales, and they have also been seen in winter, off New Caledonia, so perhaps they migrate to warmer waters.

Storm petrels are the smallest of all seabirds. They are in the "tubenosed" family, along with albatrosses and shearwaters, and live their whole lives at sea, coming ashore only to breed and landing only at night. Storm petrels mate for life and may live for 30 years. Each pair lays one egg each season, in a burrow (although the New Zealand storm petrel may nest on cliffs). They feed on plankton in the open ocean, and fly low over the water, often pattering their feet on the surface, hence the "Jesus bird" moniker.

There's an awful lot of myth attached to storm petrels: they get their name because sailors thought they warned of storms. Others thought they were the souls of dead sailors. There's footage of these gorgeous little birds on YouTube, but you'll see them in real life only from the water, in summer. A professional bird tour will greatly improve your chances.

Brent Stephenson and Sav Saville run tours of the Hauraki Gulf: see for details. Pterodroma Pelagics also run regular tours;

If you happen to see one anywhere other than the Hauraki Gulf, try to take a photo, and contact the Ornithological Society:

The group trying to locate the birds' breeding grounds needs sponsorship to continue the search. Please contact Chris Gaskin at if you can help.

- Sunday Star Times

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Let's dance: 'Ka mate' in perspective

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Turtle survives aquarium inferno

By Matthew Theunissen on Fri, 16 Sep 2011
News: National

A turtle miraculously survived an inferno in an aquarium which was so hot it boiled water in some tanks and killed hundreds of fish.

The blaze at the Mapua Aquarium near Nelson was one of three fires in the area early yesterday morning believed to have been the work of arsonists.

Fire investigator Lewis Jones said the fire caused "total destruction'' in the building and was so intense it boiled water in some of the tanks and caused their glass to burst.

"Miraculously'', a turtle somehow survived the fire, which killed everything else in the building.

"Fortunately for the turtle he must have been underwater in an area that didn't get so hot or he was in an area where there was a fair quantity of cold water running in from fire hoses,'' Mr Jones said.

"It was the one lovely thing about the whole job. Everything else is a gut-wrenching thing for the community.''

The turtle seemed unscathed after its ordeal and was being looked after by aquarium staff.

While firefighters were battling the blaze at about 3am, they received calls about two other fires in the area, one in a wheelie bin on Iwa Street and another at the local tennis court pavilion.

These were quickly extinguished but the aquarium blaze took hours to control.

Police are treating all the fires as suspicious.

They asked anyone who took photos of any of the fires to contact Motueka police.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Endangered whales under Threat.

Research has shown 14 endangered Bryde's whales found dead in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf in recent years were killed by boats.

An autopsy on a 12-metre Bryde's whale found dead on Friday revealed massive injuries along half its body, said Massey University veterinary pathologist Stuart Hunter.

"It was clear that the whale had severe trauma, running all the way from the rib cage to near the tail of the whale, so it was most likely to be a large vessel that caused these lethal injuries," he said.

One of New Zealand's most endangered species, Bryde's whales are found in the Hauraki Gulf all year round, with ship strike posing the greatest threat to their life.

Auckland University marine scientist Rochelle Constantine has started tagging the creatures to investigate why they are so vulnerable, and found most swim quite close to the surface.

"We have deployed five tags so far and preliminary analysis shows that the whales are spending the majority of their time less than 10 metres below the surface," Dr Constantine said.

"This puts them within the strike depth of many vessels using the gulf."

The researcher urged captains of large ships to be more vigilant in watching out for the huge mammals.

"All vessels using the Hauraki Gulf pose a threat to whales so it is important that everyone using these waters is watching out for these large residents in Auckland's backyard," she said.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Happy Feet's $30,000 'not wasted'

Happy Feet's $30,000 'not wasted'

NZ NewswireSeptember 13, 2011, 7:44 am

New Zealand's famed emperor penguin Happy Feet might be missing, presumed dead, but animal advocates are standing by the tens of thousands of dollars spent on his rescue.

The adolescent bird's tracking device stopped transmitting last Friday, after he had swum 115km south of his release point towards his Antarctic home.

Wildlife telemetry consultant Kevin Lay said it was possible the device, fastened with superglue, had slipped off, but this was uncommon.

Other possibilities won't want to be considered by the thousands of Happy Feet lovers who have tracked his every move since he washed up on Peka Peka beach north of Wellington in June.

More then $30,000 in donations have been spent on nursing the penguin back to health over two months, with specialised care, diets and extensive consultation on the best way to return him home.

Conservation Department Kapiti biodiversity program manager Peter Simpson, told the Dominion Post that the money was worthwhile, if only to raise public awareness about wildlife.

He remained positive that there was a chance the bird could be alive and may still end up at a penguin colony in Antarctica.

Wellington Zoo vet Lisa Argilla, who is credited with saving Happy Feet's life, told the newspaper the penguin was an ambassador for his species, spreading an important conservation message.
"That makes every cent spent worthwhile," she said.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Happy Feet stops transmitting

Happy Feet could be lost forever.

The transmitter attached to the wayward emperor penguin before his release at the start of the month appears to have stopped transmitting.
The transmitter had been sending back tracking information which showed he had travelled south and then east of his drop off location at 51 degrees south.

Our Far South, the company helping to use the tracking data to come up with locations, has not received a transmission since September 9.

It was initially thought that solar flares could be disrupting the signal.

However, the company now believes the most likely scenario is that the transmitter has fallen off.

"After all it was only glued on and would have had to survive extreme conditions. It will be at least a couple of days before we know for sure that the transmitter is no longer working."

Other possibilities included transmitter damage or technical failure.

The company was still hoping to be pleasantly surprised and for the transmit to start working again.

"But if we don't get further readings then we'll have to hope for the best."

Friday, 9 September 2011

Spring Brings the Stirring of Life and Cryptids

Not an abundance of activity at the moment, it’s sort of the calm before the storm scenario.
We are just coming into spring so nature is gradually awakening.

Of great excitement the other week was a sighting of the Canterbury Panther, regrettably the media in this country are sadly lacking in who to contact in these cases, so I learned about it through the media, not the best of ways if you want to avoid sensationalisation.

Fortunately due to complaining about the lack of proper research covering this sort of thing the gentleman who had the sighting was kind enough to contact me by email himself and gave me an excellent account of events.

I have also had confirmation of at least 3 – yes 3 other sightings of the same beast in the same vicinity. I’m in the process of following up with dates and more data. Ohhhhh for the finances for an expedition.

One of these sightings occurred at night and from a distance of 25m and showed the classic “Black figure with gleaming yellow eyes staring back at us”. The many encounters with these large black cats certainly leave no doubt that Canterbury has a resident population of big cat.
The Department of Conservations excuse of 14 kg feral cats is beginning to wear rather thin, especially with Canterbury residents and especially with people like Mr Hasson and Oatshott who have seen this thing up close and personal.

Another point of excitement was an email I recently received of strange happenings at a farm in Tongaporutu, North Taranaki. The first incident involved something large crashing through scrub on an isolated area of the farm and startling a herb of sheep, which emerged from the scrub very panicked and as if something large was in pursuit of them.

The second more interestingly involved screams which came from up a nearby gully, coming from a broad area of bush in broad daylight. This was heard by two witnesses in two separate locations.

Two very distinct screams.

One witness described it as “a high pitch, like a cow that had been bellowing and bellowing for hours and its voice had gone horse”.

Alfie Lovell, who’s family had owned the neighbouring farm for generations also admitted that he had also heard these mysterious screams from time to time.

After this incident the thing was given the name “Hutiwai Yeti” by the family and become quite a part of the family history. These events happened between 1988 – 1990. It’s refreshing to get such reports as it gives hope that remnant populations of these creatures may just hang on still.
My sincere thanks go to both James Hasson and Petrina Putt for submitting these reports

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Happy Feet heading home at last

You might remember the sand-eating Emperor Penguin that literally washed up on a Kapiti Coast beach in New Zealand in June.

Nicknamed 'Happy Feet', after the popular children's movie character, the penguin will be shipped out to sea on Niwa's research vessel Tangaroa on August 29.

The penguin, who has lived at Wellington Zoo since he was found on Peka Peka beach, will be released in the Southern Ocean four days into the ship's month-long trip to the Campbell Islands, 700km south of New Zealand.

On Sunday at Wellington Zoo Happy Feet will go under anaesthetic for the final time so a GPS tracking device can be attached to him.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Is this a UFO? An Unidentified Feline Object?

A 3News television film crew sent to record a weather story in the back blocks of North Canterbury about recent snowfalls got more than they bargained for when they filmed a cat - a BIG cat - running across a snowy paddock.

"That's not a f****** cat - that's huge!" exclaimed one of the witnesses, a television cameraman.

"It was a cat the size of a German Shepherd!"

Pawprints the trio later found in the snow measured 10cm in circumference.

The local zoo Orana Park dismissed the footage as domestic cat - but the witnesses say if that's the case, it's one monster moggy!

The mid-Canterbury area is well known for its big cat sightings and was the setting for Prints of Darkness, a documentary about New Zealand's big cats by New Zealanders Mark Orton and Pip Walls.

The area also featured in Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang, which includes a chapter about New Zealand's big cats.

You can view the footage here:

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Moa exhibition impresses the experts

A combination of team work, community funding and a Waimate archeologist skilled in the field of skeletons and anatomy, has meant the town has a moa exhibition that has impressed some of New Zealand's moa research elite.

The Waimate Historical Museum exhibition which runs until November, received a visit from a group of top moa experts, including from Te Papa, who were on their way to a key moa site at St Bathans. Intending to stay only five minutes, instead they stayed 90.

The exhibition is special to Waimate because of the Kapua moa excavations of 1895. Kapua, at one end of the Waimate gorge, was the resting place of 800 moa skeletons.

English archaeologist, Joy Langston, who now lives in Waimate, was charged with using her expertise to help create the exhibition.

She said the Kapua moa site was initially discovered by a farmer, a Mr MacDonald, who was digging a sink hole for water. He told Captain Frederick W Hutton, the curator of Christchurch Museum(as it was called), who put the museum taxidermist in charge of the dig.

"They literally just dug a hole to bring as many bones out as they could. Excavations then weren't scientifically done."

Local workmen helped.

Beside the dig were heaps of bones rather than sets of complete birds, but the bones amounted to 800 birds.

There is a kill and butchery site at the Waitaki mouth, but the Kapua birds had all died naturally, over several generations.

The Kapua swamp was a feeding area dotted with spring holes connected to a ground water supply.

Unlucky Moa grazing across the swamp, where vegetation covered the holes, would fall leg and bottom first into a hole, and be unable to lever themselves out, being wingless.

They would die, and after the birds decomposed, the bones would fall down the spring hole. The birds at Kapua have been dated from 1014-714BC.

"It wasn't a mass `let's walk on to the swamp and kill ourselves', it happened over a long long time," Dr Langston said.

The exhibition team, with the help of Dr Langston and her scientific research expertise and contacts, are presenting some of the latest research.

Wikipedia has the number of moa species at 11, but researchers now know that there were nine, adapted to different environments such as the swamp, the uplands, the forest or the coast and climates as differing as the West Coast from the East.

Dr Langston said early researchers believed the skeletons of the male and female, with the latter being somewhat larger than her mate, belonged to different species. But with access to DNA testing, the science world has been able to accurately pinpoint the different species.

The different habitats of the moa meant they evolved differently, with the upland species being smaller, with feathers down to their toes for instance, or the stout legged moa suited to forest living.

South America (rhea), Africa (ostrich), Australia (emu and cassowary) and Madagascar (elephant bird – extinct) all have or had large flightless birds called ratites, of which the moa is one. The kiwi is also a ratite.

Interestingly the moa is genetically more closely related to the South American tinamou than it is to the kiwi.

Although moa are unique to New Zealand, indications are that the ancestor ratite bird was living when ancient continent Gondwana was one land mass, and well-distributed throughout, Dr Langston said.

All this suggests the ancestor moa was on New Zealand when it drifted away 86 million years ago, but with New Zealand having been submerged in water and going through ice ages, the fossil evidence dates back about 20 million years.

The oldest moa bones date back only two million years, but the work at St Bathans revealed the older fossil evidence.

When the Southern Alps formed five to eight million years ago, the different habitats created meant the moa evolved into the nine different species.

Dr Langston said the ability to get ancient DNA samples has revolutionised science for humans and "all sorts of species".

Moa have no evidence of ever having had wings – unlike the kiwi which has tiny wing bones. Researchers have been able to work out that centuries old feathers have not faded and moa were probably shades of brown like the kiwi. Some had a a speckled appearance and others had streaking. With barbless feathers they were probably quite shaggy, rather than smoothly preened.

Their only predator before Maori arrived was the haast eagle, which could have a wing span of more than three metres, and which crushed bone with its powerful talons, she said.

However, after Maori arrived (in 1280 according to a 2010 carbon dating of campfire charcoal), it took only a few generations of human habitation, until 1400, for moa to become extinct.

Dr Langston said there were thought to be around 160,000 moa in New Zealand at the time Maori arrived (a figure based on scientific modelling).

Being a K species, long-lived and bearing a small number of young at a later age, they were also vulnerable to extinction. Humans and elephants are other K species.

The giant birds, naive about humans, were a good package of easy meat to a hunter. Big adults were hunted out first, cutting out the breeders. Younger ones followed, before they could breed. Moa eggs were also being eaten.

Interestingly, museums all over the world still have moa skeletons posed with their necks stretching straight up. Now knowing more about anatomy and bones, researchers know their necks curved horizontally, in line with their backs.

The exhibition features a bone from the Kapua dig which still has its hand-written metal tag attached. Other items come from museums further afield. The Canterbury Museum's contribution was halted, days before it was to be transported, by the February earthquake. Fortunately, Otago Museum was able to step in.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rat Island documents NZ birds' fight for survival

A new book, Rat Island, documents the desperate rescue mission of two feathered NZ treasures - the flightless Kakapo and the tiny lesser-known Least Auklet, both island-dwelling birds being edged out by introduced species such as rats, weasels, stoats and ferrets - many of them introduced in the mid-1800s, ironically, to tackle the out-of-control rabbit population!

An endangered Kakapo on Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

Read this excellent review of Rat Island by Michael Scott at Plain Dealer.

A Least Auklet, the smallest species of Auk.
And watch this impressive display of hundreds of Least Auklets wheeling through the evening sky as they come home to roost, to get a sense of what could have been lost to us all forever:

Monday, 8 August 2011

Fish discovery off nearby Kermadec Islands

D brachypterus - Shortfin lionfish, first recorded from the Kermadec
Islands (and New Zealand) in 2004.

Three fish new to science are among those discovered by an Australian and New Zealand research team which returned recently from a successful expedition to the volcanic Kermadec Islands, 1000km northeast of New Zealand.

The three new species include a bright orange lotella cod; an ‘orange spot’ pipefish; and, a left-eyed flounder – all of which are just 10 cm long.

Three Australian Museum marine scientists are amongst the team which also recorded 12 species of fish that have never been documented anywhere in the New Zealand region before, and collected a further five fish species that are new records for the remote Kermadec Islands – New Zealand’s largest marine reserve.

Dr Penny Berents, Head of Natural Science Collections at the Australian Museum, said Australian Museum scientists are also expected to identify new marine invertebrate species among the thousands of specimens they have collected.

“Expeditions such as this are vitally important for gathering research specimens and data to improve our understanding of marine biodiversity and provide critical information for understanding and predicting the effects of climate change,” said Dr Berents.

Expedition leader & former Australian Museum scientist, Dr Tom Trnski, now with Auckland Museum, said the expedition was a resounding success.

“We really feel we have been working at the frontiers of marine research, both physically in the sense of working somewhere so remote, and also biologically in the sense of making new discoveries,” he said.

“Every day was exhilarating, as we never knew what we might find.”

While formal identifications will take many months, some of the creatures collected – such as the mysterious sea hares - have already created much interest.

Sea hares get the name ‘hare’ because - like rabbits - they are constantly munching their way through the small plants that grow on rocks.

Australian Museum Scientist, Dr Mandy Reid, said while most sea hares are generally no bigger than the palm of your hand, she found one that was the size of a football.

“They’re a real mystery because no one onboard the boat was a sea hare expert and we couldn’t find any of them in the books we had so we think they may well be a new species,” she said.

The research team - which included scientists from Auckland Museum, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Australian Museum, and the NZ Department of Conservation - collected more than 4300 specimens on the three week expedition.

The specimens have been readied for shipment to the three participating museums where work will now begin in confirming the identity of all the fish and invertebrate material collected. A final report confirming all the expedition’s findings will be published next year.

The Australian Museum’s participation in the Kermadec expedition was funded by the Australian Museum Foundation.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Callousness of Abundance.

It’s amazing how some creatures are taken for granted, a classic case in point is the Passenger Pigeon. Once in flocks that stretched for miles and were so dense they darkened the skies, now a few sad scruffy museum specimens are all that remain.
The New Zealand grayling -Prototroctes oxyrhynchus was nothing spectacular to look at.

It is described as 20 – 4 cm in length, so not a large fish, very similar in shape to the Australian species – P. maraena - but of a more russet colour with reddish orange fins.

The major problem is though this fish was extremely abundant there are no actual preserved specimens that have retained colouring or artwork of these little fish, so we must rely on oral description only.

These small fish made a large part of the favoured Whitebait haul and were very abundant before European settlement. By the time Europeans arrived they were already in decline as they were a popular part of the Maori seasonal food source. However, still abundant enough to be caught in such quantities as along with other Whitebait they were used as fertiliser on pastoral land.

The fish used to be so abundant the Maori name for one of the local rivers literally translates to “River that ripples with Grayling”. Catches dwindled year by year and by 1920 they were a very rare catch in the Whitebait net, though they seemed to hold out longer in the South Island than they did in the North, perhaps as with most Whitebait species they preferred the cooler Alpine fed waters.

It was the same with New Zealand’s only freshwater fish to receive official protection, in this case in typical governmental style, after it had become extinct. The last recorded specimens were handed over to the British Museum in the 1930’s and the grayling was seen no more.
It is funny as the same sort of practise is still happening today, this time not with whitebait but apex predators, yes, sharks.

The demand for Shark fins for soup and the high price paid for the harvest of these items are putting many shark species including top apex predators like Great Whites to the brink of extinction. Once our ocean teemed with various species of sharks are they too going to be reduced to just a specimen in some museum. But unlike the little Graying this will impact right down the food chain.

I guess man doesn’t learn from his mistakes - he just makes bigger ones.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Mythical monster puts NZ on notice

A mythical swamp monster "hiding" under Auckland is threatening to derail a project to improve the New Zealand city's traffic gridlock.

The North Island city is trying to move ahead with a multi-billion railway tunnel project to improve the minimal train network and free up its car-filled streets.

But Horotiu, a mythical monster, put the NZ$2.6bn ($2.1bn) project in doubt after an indigenous Maori board protested that it will destroy grounds once patrolled by the taniwha (pronounced "tani-fa").

Glenn Wilcox, a member of the Maori Statutory Board, which protects Maori interests, complained that the plan did not take into account the monster, which "was here first".

"As kaitiaki, or guardians, they protect people, but they also get up and bite you if they do not like what you are doing," he said.

The local council has since convinced the board that the correct consultation had taken place, putting the popular project back on the table.

The board accepted its needs had been met but not before it was invoiced thousands of dollars for public relations advice relating to the monster.

The monster now appears to have opened a Twitter account, @TaniwhaHorotiu, where it claims: "If I get my asking price I've got my eye on a stream out near Waterview."

It claims taniwha aren't invincible; in fact, one dies "every time a child reads a science book".

Surprisingly, its not the first time a taniwha has threatened to up-end a council project.

In 2002, construction of a stretch of road between Auckland and Hamilton was halted after protesters complained that it was cutting through the domain of a revered one-eye taniwha.

The taniwha was thought to be responsible for a number of deaths on the stretch of road.

Ranginui Walker, a respected Maori elder, said at the time: "You have to placate local demons, deities, taniwha.

"Don't tempt fate."

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Its been a long road.

Finally after all this time and various disasters along the way of persoanal natures, the CFZ NZ office is finally set up and running. The Library however is still the perfect picture of a civil defense emergency but will get there.

Im hopeing to throw a few pics up eventually. Set up some tanks in here 1 containing Nelson the CFZ NZ mascot - an Oscar Chiclid with extrodinary intelligence. Im sure he would one day make a fine engineer as he loves finding new things to shove up the filter and block it.

Another Tank houses a somewht oddity here in New Zealand - a freshwater PufferFish called Abe after Abe Sapien - yes we are Hellboy fans here.

One tank however remains empty in nticipation of I believe August when our Whitebait season starts I have been promised a number of these fish , which here in New Zealand are mainly comprised of Galaxids or Inanga. Due to excessive exploitation these species are not as plentiful as they once were and will be interesting to keep and observe. Its surprising just how little is known about New Zealand freshwater fish.

Whitebait during the early part of the 20th century were so plentiful they were caught and dumped in mass as agricultural fertiliser.

Now a few cup fulls is considered a good catch.

Being winter here we are still hunkering down and riding out the cold weather in anticipation of spring but this year alot of projects are on the boil so in reality we should be glad of the calm before the storm.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Rare Takahe birds the focus of fundraising drive

These rare flightless birds of a feather need to flock together to keep their species afloat.

There are only 220 Takahe left in New Zealand and about 30 have been treated at the New Zealand Wildlife Health Centre at Massey University.

And three of the birds were the focus of a sponsorship drive recently run by the Centre at the Tiritea School. Sadly one of the birds had to be put down due to a severe leg injury.

The Takahē or South Island Takahē, Porphyrio hochstetteri is a flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand and belonging to the rail family.

It was thought to be extinct after the last four known specimens were taken in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort the bird was rediscovered by Geoffrey Orbell near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains, South Island, on November 20, 1948.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

New Beginnings

Finally after a last few weeks of chaos, trying to arrange for this semester study, get my files and some kind of order and actually have an office I can work in I can now devote my attentions to the blog. My sincerest and deepest thanks go to those who have been covering for me over this period of turmoil.

Right, CFC New Zealand now has a new addition to the team in the form of Nelson, our Oscar Cichlid, who diligently stares at me from his fish tank like an over watchful master reminding me there is work to be done. It

There is still a lot to be sorted out, my library is gradually getting there, and a lot of my specimens and fossils are being moved to better display facilities.

Speakin of Fossils, I have noticed there was some very good specimens for sale on the New Zealand auction site trademe . one thing that caught my attention in particular however, is a taxidermist producing novel items . Cerebus the three headed Chicken. this item sold for $135 . a regrettable part of being self-funded is not being able to pick up such rarities.

Or for thoe searching for the legendary rarity how about baby legendary Grendel.

This Guy cerainly has talent.

Anyway - First post and still heaps to get done, I do intend to make his at least hopefully weekly postng if not more freqent.

Have a great Day and an even better tomorrow.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Endangered swamp bird Boris gets a second chance

A rare endangered native New Zealand wetlands bird has been brought back from the brink of death at Massey University's Wildlife Centre after arriving with a severely damaged wing.

Boris the New Zealand Matuku was picked up by Bird Rescue Whanganui and taken to the centre because of a fractured right wing which had led to it twisting around.

He was due for surgery on Tuesday but suffered a cardiac arrest after being anaesthetised and was resuscitated by veterinarians who decided to postpone the wing surgery.

Boris' wing fracture had healed out of alignment, so it would have to be rebroken and the muscles around it stretched out because they had contracted with the new position of the wing.

Matuku are endangered in both New Zealand and Australia.

There are about 750 left in New Zealand and less than 1000 in Australia.

There was great concern for the falling numbers of Makutu but it was difficult to learn about them because they were so good at existing unnoticed.

Massey University zoology lecturer Phil Battley said the main way the birds were monitored was by their loud booming calls. "They are a hard bird to get a handle on because they live in swamps."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

OOPA: Was Emperor Penguin colonising NZ?

Richard Sadleir, a former director of science and research for the NZ Conservation Department, has some interesting ideas on why the Emperor Penguin now known as 'Happy Feet' decided to up stumps and visit the land of the long white cloud. Here he writes for the Dominion Post about his theory:

"Why should an emperor penguin travel from distant Antarctica to finish up on a New Zealand beach? The distribution and movements of animals is a fascinating part of ecology. Most populations live in well defined ranges but, surprisingly, often individuals wander long distances from their normal home.

Happy Feet is the second emperor penguin in 40 years to reach New Zealand shores since naturalists started keeping records.

It is very likely that many emperors made it to New Zealand in the past 1000 years and many more would have travelled north and probably died before they could return home.

Why should this happen ? Ecologists think that the evolutionary reason for roaming animals, often called stragglers, is that, by chance they may arrive at a suitable place to live, then settle down and start a new colony, therefore extending the range.

A pregnant female mammal, or a female bird with an egg forming inside her, could theoretically start a new population, but in most cases more than one straggler would be necessary.

Almost all of these roaming individuals die but the process of such attempted dispersal continues as it has for thousands of years.

About 50 years ago a keen naturalist in New Plymouth kept a light trap running for many years. Insects attracted to the light are collected in a container.

The naturalist found hundreds of butterflies and moths that had blown over the Tasman Sea from Australia, especially after big storms. Almost all of these never established themselves here, probably because of our colder temperatures.

Again and again, special animals try the long trips to find new areas to live. Almost all die but some are successful.

In 1912, a small Australian wallaby was freed east of Rotorua. This species has very slowly increased its range eastward, getting halfway to Whakatane. But year after year, locals have reported seeing wallabies many kilometres away from the main range. These stragglers may find new habitats or they may not.

Three wallabies that turned up in Taranaki were certainly helped in their dispersal by a passing hunter!

The Indian mynah bird shows the same process. Introduced to the North Island in 1875, this bird, considered by many to be a pest, spread widely and now lives almost entirely north of a line from Whanganui to Waipukurau. It is apparently too cold for this species further south, yet there are sightings of stragglers trying to probe southward.

Strangely, the species was found in Wellington many years ago but it then vanished. Perhaps, as our climate warms, this unpleasant bird may make it south.

So Happy Feet is a sort of pioneer, looking for a new place to live. The penguin seems to have travelled too far in its quest but its relatives back in Antarctica will continue the process of travelling far from home to see if new homes are available.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Whales re-colonising NZ waters

Scientists have discovered that southern right whales, hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, appear to be re-colonising mainland New Zealand calving grounds from a remnant population in the subantarctic Auckland Islands.

The endangered whales were rarely seen around mainland New Zealand for most of the last century, but small and growing numbers are slowly returning to the coast to give birth and raise their calves.

“With the increase in numbers observed around the Auckland Islands over the last decade, we think that some individuals are re-discovering the former primary habitat around the mainland of New Zealand,” says Professor Scott Baker of The University of Auckland and Oregon State University, who helped initiate the first study of the Auckland Island population in 1995.

The latest findings are based on genetic evidence from small skin samples collected from 707 whales over more than a decade. By comparing the DNA fingerprints of individual whales, the research has confirmed genetic differences between whales around Australia and New Zealand, and provides new insight into differences in the recovery of regional populations.

The results support the conclusion that the mainland New Zealand population was wiped out and that the returning whales are from the remnant subantarctic population. It revealed, for the first time, the movement of seven individual whales between the Auckland Islands and mainland New Zealand. “The seven whales that have been identified in both the Auckland Islands and the mainland are probably the first pioneers of this re-colonisation,” says Dr Baker.

The research has been published today in the international journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series, by scientists from The University of Auckland, New Zealand Department of Conversation (DOC), Australian Antarctic Division, Macquarie University, the Museum of Western Australia and Oregon State University.

“The results confirm the strong connection of right whales to regional calving grounds around Australia and New Zealand as a result of early maternal experience,” says lead author Emma Carroll, a PhD student from The University of Auckland. “This maternal fidelity contributed to the vulnerability of these local populations, which were quickly hunted to extinction using only open boats and hand-held harpoons.”

Maternal fidelity is a kind of cultural heritage passed from a mother to calf during the first year of life, as they migrate together from calving grounds to feeding grounds thought to be near the subantarctic convergences.

When right whales around mainland New Zealand were wiped out, this heritage seemed to have been lost, slowing the return of whales to their former habitat. Surprisingly, a remnant population that calves in the subantarctic Auckland Islands survived and has shown signs of recovery, with surveys in the 1990s revealing an estimated 1,000 individuals.

With increased numbers of southern right whales returning to the mainland shores, DOC is calling on the public to report sightings of this rare whale. “With the winter calving season upon us, we are once again calling for the public to immediately report sightings of southern right whales to 0800 DOCHOT” says Dr Laura Boren, the DOC National Marine Mammal Coordinator.

DOC also has a flickr gallery where the public can upload images of the whales, at Dr Boren reminds photographers not to get too close to the whales, however. “To keep both you and the whale safe, leave a distance of 50m or 200m if there is a calf present,” she says.

The research article, entitled “Population structure and individual movement of southern right whales around New Zealand and Australia”, with the unique identifier “doi:10.3354/meps09145”, will be available for free download from the Marine Ecology Progress Series website

Southern right whales are large, long-lived mammals that calve in shallow coastal areas where they were hunted intensively in New Zealand and Australia in the 19th century. The species was given legal protection by the League of Nations in 1935 but was subject to illegal whaling in the 1950s and 1960s. The current New Zealand population is estimated to be less than 5 per cent of its pre-whaling abundance.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

OOPA: Sick Emperor Penguin drops into NZ

One of New Zealand's top surgeons has operated on an ailing emperor penguin found on a beach near Wellington, some 3000 km from its Antarctic home.

More used to dealing with sick humans than poorly penguins, surgeon Dr John Wyeth performed a delicate two-hour operation on the bird, nicknamed Happy Feet, which has suffered declining health since it appeared last week.

But the penguin is underweight following its long swim north and has intestinal trauma, and not yet ready to be released into the wild. It's resting up at Wellington Zoo while wildlife experts ponder o=how to return the penguin to his chilly home.

The emperor is the largest penguin species and can grow over a metre in height. The reason for Happy Feet's appearance in New Zealand remains a mystery, although experts say emperor penguins take to the open sea during the Antarctic summer and this one may have simply wandered off course.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Great White Shark hauled from harbour

A 2.8-metre great white shark hauled out of the entrance to Wellington Harbour had been feeding on large marine mammals.

A team at Te Papa defrosted the shark, caught last year, for measuring this week. It was the largest great white specimen preserved intact in New Zealand, Te Papa collection manager Andrew Stewart said.

One of the biggest surprises, for the examiners, was discovering that the shark had an empty stomach except for a seal claw and some tape worms.

The claw was the "smoking gun" that it had started eating seals, he said. "This shark had moved from being a fish eater to being an apex predator ... These are animals that sit right at the top of the food pyramid."

Scientists would study markings to establish if the shark had been spotted off Stewart Island, where Conservation Department shark expert Clinton Duffy had collected photographic records of great whites.

Cells of the shark would be analysed to try to discover what else it had been eating.

The shark was hauled from the water near Barrett Reef in October last year by Peter Amitrano and Alfonso Basile, who had set moki nets.

Great whites are a protected species, meaning if they are caught, the Conservation Department has to be notified.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

OOPA: NZ moose photos revealed

Four photographs of moose taken by a hunter in Fiordland almost 60 years ago have finally been revealed publicly.

Fred Stewardson (78), of Hikurangi, in Northland, took the photographs on a hunting trip to Wet Jacket Arm in 1953.

But his older hunting companion, friend and mentor Eddie Young, swore him to secrecy, fearing the moose would be shot by hunters if the photographs were revealed at the time.

Only a handful of photographs of moose in Fiordland are known to exist, most taken between 1923 and 1952.

Mr Stewardson's photographs, taken from about 70m, include the only known photograph of a group of three moose - a bull, a cow and its calf.

Ken Tustin, of Bull Creek, near Milton, who has spent years searching for the descendants of the North American moose released in Fiordland in 1910, describes the rare photographs as "by far the best and most informative" he has seen.

He also regarded the history of the photographs as "quite an extraordinary moose story".

"Since we've been in touch, Fred has got such a kick out of our moose quest.

"He has rediscovered his own interest in moose and has gifted us the use of his photos.

"He now figures the secrecy agreement has been outlived and ... when he goes, he doesn't want the story and what he knows are very special pictures to go with him."

Mr Tustin said he learnt of the photographs too late for his 2010 book, A (Nearly) Complete History of the Moose in New Zealand.

"The photos would have transformed it."

Mr Stewardson, who was dairy farming at Kakanui in the 1950s, was always a keen hunter and photographer.

In letters to Mr Tustin, he recalled how he came across the moose and how he rushed to take the photographs with his Agfa Super Silette and telephoto lens.

"It's just a pity that I never took more time but it was the excitement of seeing three wonderful animals right there and Ed saying, `Don't shoot.

Photos, photos, photos'.

"I remember shaking trying to look and also set up the camera.

"It all seemed to take so long.

"I'm disappointed that I didn't get a better shot of [the cow] with her calf but I guess I mustn't complain. I'm lucky with what I got."

The hunters tried not to startle the moose, he says.

"They didn't seem in an alarmed situation but by the photo I think [the bull] knew something was wrong. He looks upset and perhaps ready to charge.

"After the photos, we just moved away from the animals and ... left them to it.

"Ed was a terrific guy in not shooting everything he saw and he taught me so much over many years hunting with him."

Mr Stewardson says he was "just the boy tagging along" and he did as instructed by Mr Young, who told him: "Keep your mouth shut. Don't ever tell a soul. If you do, Fiordland will have loads of trigger-happy clowns there for slaughter. Many won't give a damn if moose survive or not.

"When I look back now, he was so correct."

He believes the moose encounter was at the head of Wet Jacket Arm.

"I didn't really like the area - rain, mud and biting bumblebees. Give me the Hollyford any day."

The photographs were originally colour slides but had faded and had water stains.

"I keep looking at these snaps ... they bring back so many great memories. Wish I was young and fit again.

"I wonder now just what happened to them in the end."

Mr Young died in 1980 and Mr Stewardson said many of his old hunting mates were also now in "another world".

"This is why I'm so happy to pass information on.

"Once I croak, a lot of my junk will be burnt and gone forever."

He wished Mr Tustin well in his quest to prove beyond doubt moose are still resident in Fiordland.

"I expect some day to see your lucky moose photos. That day can't be far away. Have faith."

Moose let loose

1900: Four young moose captured for intended release - survivors of 14, after 10 died in a storm at sea - said to be as tame as pet ponies and keen on eating biscuits by the time they arrive by ship in New Zealand.

They have been imported from Canada and shipped to Greymouth from Wellington. Railed to Hokitika, they are temporarily kept in stables before being released near the Hokitika Gorge on February 19, 1900.

Three animals disappear up the gorge. Some accounts suggest at least one of these animals survived until about 1903.

The fourth, a cow, remains near Vine Creek for 14 years and is an occasional visitor to the settlement of Koiterangi, apparently still searching for biscuits.

1910: Ten hand-raised Canadian moose - six females and four males - are shipped to New Zealand, arriving in Wellington via Hobart.

After being quarantined at Somes Island for nearly two months, they are shipped to Bluff, transferred to a government steamer and released at Supper Cove, Dusky Sound, Fiordland, on April 6, 1910.

One female breaks its leg at the shoulder in a fight with another animal upon release. One cow is shot within weeks of liberation.

1923: First photograph of wild moose in New Zealand is taken. Two animals photographed by Charles Evans at Supper Cove.

1925: Two cows seen swimming across the flooded Seaforth River at Supper Cove, photographed by Geoffrey Todd.

1927: Two young bulls seen and photographed in the Seaforth River by Les Murrell; a cow seen the next day.

1929: Eddie Herrick, operating on a prospecting licence with guide Jim Muir, in March shoots a bull moose "well past its prime".

It may have been one of the animals originally released.

1934: Eddie Herrick shoots another bull, this time in the creek that now bears his name.

1950: Young bull shot near Supper Cove by Gordie Cowie.

1951: Jim Mackintosh shoots a cow in Herrick Creek. Robin Francis Smith shoots a cow in the Henry Burn.

1952: Max Curtis photographs a cow near the lake on Herrick Creek. Percy Lyes shoots a bull at Herrick Creek.

This for years is considered to be the last moose shot in New Zealand. Robin Francis Smith later takes 14 photographs of a cow at Herrick Creek.

1953: Fred Stewardson takes photographs of three moose in Wet Jacket Arm.

Source: Ken Tustin.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Moa Beer does its bit for wildlife

It's not quite as rare as its name-sake (pictured above being attached by a giant Haast's Eagle), but Moa Beer is increasing in popularity and destined to enjoy a much wider distribution.

The Kiwi company is already New Zealand's biggest exporter of beer to the US and elsewhere, including Singapore, Denmark, Vietnam, Brazil and Antarctica.

Naturalists might be interested to know every year the company sponsors the Moa Easter Bunny Hunt, held to assist New Zealand farmers plagued by rabbits. The latest event saw nearly 23,000 rabbits killed, plus 979 hares, eight pigs, countless stoats and a goat.

Too late to help out the Moa, but it does make for an impressive beer label.