[WGF:4] Attack of the Aliens

I was flipping through the July 2009 issue of National Geographic, looking for inspiration for this week’s Weekly Geographical Factoid, when this quote caught my eye:

Like the rest of New Zealand, the park’s ecosystem suffered terrible losses from the introduction of alien species.

The park that the quote is referring to is Tongariro, which was the first national park in New Zealand. It encompasses three volcanic peaks and has actually been named a World Heritage site twice – first for its physical features, and later for its cultural importance. One of the peaks portrayed Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, although I’m fairly certain that’s not the cultural importance it is recognized for.

But back to these alien species. Are you aware that bats are New Zealand’s only native mammalian species? (Aside from marine mammals, that is). On the down side, that means no bunnies, squirrels, llamas, sheeps…not even a kangaroo.

On the up side, of course, this led to the evolution of exotic native birds such as the beloved kiwi. As Mel White writes in National Geographic, “even as the kiwi, the bizarre, flightless bird, became the beloved symbol of New Zealand, it almost died out in the wild, its eggs and young devoured by stoats.”

A Stoat.

Other predators were also introduced. Rats, for example, were brought over by the earliest Maori people. Later, possums made their way there by boat from Australia, and likewise cats from Europe. I once heard, from a fairly reliable source, that New Zealanders (often called kiwis themselves) will actually go out of their way to hit possums on the road – in the interest of protecting the kiwi population, of course.

L to R: a chicken, ostrich, and moa.

Kiwis are not the only oddball birds native to New Zealand. Back in the day, the giant moa bird populated the island region. Modern day friends include the weka, which has a “famously feisty and curious personality” and the fantail, known for its “flying antics.”

Please enjoy this tragic tribute to the kiwi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdUUx5FdySs

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