Something that keeps coming up in New Zealand is the issue of conservation. Green is in (even though the heater in my dorm room right now seems not to actually heat in any efficient way), but this country has a terrible history of extinction of plant and animal species.

It is even more marked here because of New Zealand’s short human history (it is believed the Maori arrived here only about 800 years ago and the Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries) and because so many of the species of plants and animals here are endemic (85% of their 2,300 higher order plant species are unique to New Zealand- fact I learned by running through the Botanical Gardens in Wellington at top speed because it was pretty cold).

On my travels here so far, I’ve learned that:

1-      Many bird species evolved to be flightless because of a lack of predators. And they thus made for easy killing and eating by people and introduced mammals.

The moa is now extinct. It was a massive flightless bird that made good eating. This one is a reproduction at Zealandia that creepily moves its head up and down.

2-      Only 2 species of mammals are native to New Zealand (two species of little bats, one of which can fit into a matchbox, but would probably prefer to be free).

3-      Possums, goats, wild boar, deer, and stoats kill native birds and native bush at an alarming rate. Humans don’t have a great track record either.

How could this poor stoat with a bandaged knee be evil?

4-      In 800 years, New Zealand has lost a massive percentage of their native birds.

In a place called Whakahoro (“wh” is pronounced “f” in Maori so words sometimes come out sounding a bit rude), Dan the Man has set up Blue Duck Station, an eco-business/conservation project that he hopes will spread through New Zealand to make the country one big conservation area. Needless to say, it is a gorgeous (and big) piece of land and it looks like his efforts are slowly paying off as he sees an increase in the local Blue Duck population (a marker of the ecosystem’s health as a whole since it relies on very easily-disturbed balance to survive).

Whakahoro

A few of us went on a really nice, muddy walk, and found sheep in the rainforest. But you could go goat-hunting too (hard to wrap your head around killing goats being a step towards conservation, but it is, so deal with it. Right?)

Zealandia, in Wellington, is kind of like an urban version of the Blue Duck Station. It is a sanctuary, surrounded by a fence to keep the predators away, that hopes will slowly transform back into its pre-human state (this place has a 500-year vision). It is a haven for over 30 species of native animals (I saw a baby tuatara!) on one square mile. Despite the Antarctic wind, I walked around for hours with a sweet couple from Hawke’s Bay, looking for birds and making up survival scenarios.

Kaka in Zealandia

A silent, gorgeously animated film in the museum section, brought me close to tears as moa birds were cut down and rats infested the pristine forest and then showed the vision of the future where the forest would be restored and be filled with little spotted kiwi birds.

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