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Humans wiped out moa, the largest bird that ever lived

Just a small population of human settlers caused the extinction of the moa in New Zealand, a study has found.

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Otago and Canterbury university researchers say this means humans were likely involved in the extinction of species such as the mammoth in other countries.

It had been suggested the human populations were too low to have caused the extinction.

Researchers found only 2500 people were living in New Zealand when the moa became extinct about 1425. The large birds would have been scarce for several decades beforehand.

During the peak period of moa hunting, there were fewer than 1500 Polynesian settlers in New Zealand – one of the lowest human population densities on record.

Researchers found only 2500 people were living in New Zealand when the moa became extinct about 1425. The large birds would have been scarce for several decades beforehand.

But this caused moa extinction within a century.

The research found moa were exterminated in the more accessible lowlands of the South Island at the end of the 14th century, 70 to 80 years after the first evidence of moa consumption.

The rest of the moa only survived for about another 20 years.

The research led by Canterbury University’s Professor Richard Holdaway and Otago University’s Chris Jacomb is published in the Nature Communications journal.

They says it’s often suggested people could not have caused the extinction of megafauna such as mammoths and giant sloths in North America and giant marsupials in Australia, because the human populations when the extinctions happened were too small.

Prof Holdaway and Mr Jacomb say the extinctions in New Zealand of moa, giant eagle, and giant geese, accomplished by the direct and indirect activities of a low-density human population, shows that population size can no longer be used as an argument against human involvement in extinctions elsewhere.

They says it’s often suggested people could not have caused the extinction of megafauna such as mammoths and giant sloths in North America and giant marsupials in Australia, because the human populations when the extinctions happened were too small.

Some Moa grew up to three metres tall and weighed up to 250kg, others were smaller.

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