was the fabled land of birds.
New Zealand’s biota was so strange that it would be dismissed
as science fiction if the fossil record was not there to prove it. There
were some 70 species of birds found nowhere else in the world, more than
a third of them were flightless and almost a quarter of them nocturnal.
Many of the birds occupied niches for which, in other ecosystems, mammals
evolved. The early European explorers and naturalists likened New Zealand
to a lost Arcadia, the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Today, New Zealand’s
forests are quiet, eerily so, empty of birds compared to those of pre-human
times. Unique and vulnerable species were exterminated by hunting, habitat
destruction and the introduction of mammalian predators. All we now have
left are the remnants of a lost fauna.