During New Zealand's early time of isolation, birds continued to arrive and develop without large predators, making them vulnerable to foreign and more recent arrivals. The predators that have really been widely destructive were the mustelids, cats and European rat species. The most important impact of pre-Europeans was the widespread burning used in moa-hunting especially in the drier areas of the South Island.
New Zealand has the worlds largest (and probably only flightless) parrot ( the Kakapo ), the only truly alpine parrot ( kea ), the oldest reptile ( tuatara ), the biggest earthworms, the heaviest insect ( also the largest weta ), the smallest bats, some of the oldest trees, and many of the rarest birds, insects, and plants in the world....
NZ is home to the world famous Tuatara, a lizard-like reptile which dates back to the dinosaurs and perhaps before (260 million years?). The only member of its order (Rhynchocephalia) it is now restricted to protected offshore islands which you have to have special permission to visit. Specimens are kept at some zoos and the fantastic Invercargill museum.
Far too many species of bird have become extinct since humans arrived on NZ including the various species of Dinornis (moa) the largest of which stood up to 2.5 metres high. While the rare Takahe (Notornis australis) can be seen in semi-wild conditions at Te Anau, the Kakapo is too endangered to be on display anywhere.
The New Zealand Kiwi
So ask the average Kiwi bloke or sheila how many varieties of Kiwi birds there are in New Zealand and most will look you out of the corner of the eye and say, "One"? Only a few of those will be able to name them and fewer still will have ever seen one in the wild.
A Real New Zealand Kiwi
Yellow Eyed Penguin
Cute as can be, found on the south coast.
Extinct - well that's what they all thought for over 30 years.
South Island Kokako
Renowned as a song bird the South Island Kokako is thought to be extinct, but hope still holds ...
The cutest greenest parrot has lived on tender-hook until the 1999 breeding season.
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