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Sunday, December 13, 2009


Today I`m roving around the world again to New Zealand or more specifically, early nineteenth-century New Zealand. I quote extensively from the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute vol.7 1874. A long time ago an American cryptozoologist sent me this and it has been lying dormant (rather like a mythical beast, no less) in my files until now.

`On the Disappearance of the larger Kinds of Lizard from North Canterbury. By Rev. J. W. Stack.

"The absence of living specimens, coupled with the absence of all traces of recent remains, would render the task of proving that the large lizards existed till quite lately in this part of the country very difficult but for the fact that there are many Maoris still living who have not only seen but handled and even eaten them. To prevent the knowledge of an interesting zoological fact being lost I have written down the statements of such of the natives whose testimony seemed most worthy of credit. They are persons whose names appear in the earliest records of the colony as leading members of the native community,and therefore from their age may be considered competent to give evidence upon matters of fact which occurred under their observation forty or fifty years ago.

'The following is a summary of the statements made by Te Aika,Te Uki,Iwikau, and Te ata o Tu:-

'Unu ngara or ngarara burrows were frequently met with on the plains. They were plentiful in the manuka scrub extending from the banks of the Waimakariri past the present site of Eyreton westwards towards the ranges,and at Waitui,between the Hurunui and Waiau rivers. The ngara was darker in colour than the ruatara. They varied in size from two to three feet in length, and ten to twenty inches in girth; along the back from the nape of the neck to the tail was a serrated crest. The mouth was full of teeth, some grew large and caused the upper lip to project. These when taken from the jaw were three or four inches long, and half an inch at the base; when split in two and polished they were prized as mat pins.

'A ngara known as Te iha was kept a long time at Kaiapoi. It was fed on small birds and prepared fern-root. It was very gentle and liked being stroked,uttering at the time a gutteral sound expressive of pleasure. When it made this noise at any other time it was indicative that it wanted food and water.

'Besides the kind frequenting the manuka scrub their was a smaller ngarara, about eighteen inches long, found in the strams. Horomona Iwaiku was eeling some time before the fall of Kaiapoi at Orawhata, a stream which rises near Riccarton and falls into the Waimakariri. After having caught a great many eels, which he killed with a billet of wood, he was terrified by the cries of one he was in the act of killing; though very frightened, he continued to strike till the sound ceased. On examination he found it was a ngara; becoming emboldened he lit a fire, and cooked and ate it. The natives attribute the disappearance of the large ngara to the introduction of cats and to frequent fires. The Norwegian rat has probably a hand too in the extinction of these reptiles."

1.Rev.J.W.Stack.On the Disappearance of the larger Kinds of Lizard from North Canterbury.Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute.vol.7 1874 pp 295-296.

Richard. Sorry, I forgot about lyrics.Try listening to the Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest by Bob Dylan.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I would go further and recommend that if you have never done so that you listen to the entire John Wesley Harding album. It is my favourite Dylan album, and the song cited by Richard is my favourite track.

1 comment:

shiva said...

Interesting. Sounds like another species of sphenodontian, like the tuatara, rather than any of the groups of lizards (geckos and skinks) found in New Zealand, although it also sounds reminiscent of some iguanas, such as the Galapagos marine iguana.

From the Wikipedia article on the tuatara: "A third, extinct species of Sphenodon was identified in November 1885 by William Colenso, who was sent an incomplete sub-fossil specimen from a local coal mine. Colenso named the new species S. diversum." There's a PDF of the source.

Also, there's this extinct giant gecko, which seems like something of a cryptid itself (but has a completely different Maori name, suggesting it's not the same thing): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kawekaweau