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Sunday, May 10, 2009

RICHARD FREEMAN: Mystery Animals of New Zealand

1. Delcourt’s Giant Gecko (Hopolodactylus delcourti)

Known from one type specimen that was languishing, unlabelled in a French Museum of Natural History in 1986, this was the largest known gecko that ever lived, at 3 feet long. It was native to the North Island of New Zealand. The Maori spoke of a large tree dwelling lizard in their folklore and called it Kawe Kaweau. The gecko is supposed to be extinct, but continued sightings suggest it still lurks in the forests of the North Island.

In 1986 rumor abounded of a population of giant geckos near Rotorua. More recent sightings have centred on Gisbourn, the Waipoua Forest and the Waoku Plateau.

2. Moehau

A sort of ape-man supposed to live in the Coromandel region of the North Island. Moehau is tall, hair covered with long arms and sharp talons. It is supposed to be highly aggressive. There are tales about humans of gigantic stature that are supposed to represent crossbreeding between Maori and maero. This trait is said to run in families, such as the Kaihai family of Waikato and the Haupapa family of Rotorua. Although these families produce big people today, it is said that these are nothing compared to the specimens they once produced - gigantic, muscular men who were said between 8 feet and 11 feet tall.

Two early murders were blamed on these creatures. In 1882 a headless and partially devoured cadaver of a prospector was found in the Martha Mine area. The Moehau was held responsible. Further into the foothills a body of a woman was found. She had been alone in a shack whilst her family were away. Something had broken in, dragged her out and broke her neck. No known animal in New Zealand is capable of doing this.

In 1903 a set of footprints larger than a man’s were found at the Karangahake Gorge in Cromandel. In 1971 another set were found in the snow by a park ranger. A third set was found in 1983 running along the Heaphy River. In 1991 a group of campers abandoned heir camp after finding huge tracks around it. This was in the Cameron Mountains on the South Island

In 1970 a group of campers were attacked by a 2 metre tall ape man who hurled rocks at them in the Cameron Mountains on the South Island.

In 1972 a hunter in the Coromandel ranges watched a hairy man beast, 2 metres tall, lumbering through bushes. He later found footprints.

3. Taniwah

The New Zealand dragon. A huge, savage, man-eating reptile. Taniwahs were supposed to dwell in caves, seas and lakes. Many were fought by Maori heroes and shamans. They were very hard to kill. They may be based on memories of the giant Indo-pacific crocodile or crocodiles that turn up outside of their range. Alternatively they might be an unknown species.

Creatures like the Taniwah have been encountered by the white man as well.

On August 1, 1889 Mr Alexander Lindsay Kerr, chief officer of the union steam shipping company ship Rotomahama, was shocked to witness a "huge conger eel, with the exception that it had two fins about 10ft long" rise out of the ocean almost 30ft, 9 metres, off the Portland Light between Gisbourne and Napier. He later described how when he saw pictures of eels in books later he thought the serpent he had seen had a far more crocodilian head.

Theo Hazelwood recalled the time he was on a fishing boat in 1926 near the entrance to Wellington harbor, when a 16 year old boy shouted out to him from the back of the boat. He rushed over, and saw a thin long thin neck drifting on the water surface, topped with a small head and a mouthful of vicious fangs. It circled the boat five times before swimming away.

In April 1971 the crew of the Kompira Maru saw a bug eyed monster about 30 km off Lyttleton. It was said to resemble a large crocodile, though they saw it had fins rather than legs when it leaped under the water.

In 1972 in Temuka, three women at the mouth of the Orari River watched a huge monster wallowing in the breakers barely 30 metres away. They described it as a dark gray lizard like creature, though it was around 5 metres long. At one point it opened a huge gaping mouth full of small, sharp, teeth.

An anonymous woman claimed that in 1983 she had witnessed a gigantic Mosasaur-like sea creature circling the small raft she was in far off the coast of Picton. She said the animal she saw was almost 7 metres in length and that its snout occasionally emerged from the water, showing some very grisly looking teeth.

In 1990 two young woman sun bathing by a lagoon near Taupo were amazed to see a 'Giant lizard' swimming around in the shallows. It emerged its upper body at one point and attempted to catch a bird in its jaws, but was unsuccessful. It then submerged again and swam into the depths. The girls said it was the most incredible experience they'd ever had, and their description was of a 4-5 metre long, green water lizard.

Three years after the incident in the lagoon a large sea monster was spotted by Earl Rigney of Canterbury via telescope. He claimed he saw what he thought was a whale in the distance, so he looked through his telescope at the animal and was surprised to see that it was a colossal crocodile, breaching on the surface of the water. He said it was roughly 30ft (9 metres) long.

During the summer of 2001 a group of teenagers boogey-boarding in Paekakariki were terrified when an enormous monster exploded out of the water in front of them.

In 2006 Ivan Levy was left shocked and boatless after a dramatic encounter with a vicious pair of reptilian animals, which rammed into and attacked his boat when he was out enjoying the sun on the deck. He claimed that they were "like lizards with fins" and were about 6 metres long, although he did say they may have been slightly shorter or longer. After over an hour of attacking the boat the pair of creatures swim away.

Ivan Levy returned to shore with a wrecked boat. Some said he had deliberately damaged the boat for insurance money, but unfortunately for him the boat was not insured and he gained very little other than a few local headlines for his story.

In the most recent account of sea monsters in New Zealand, a Raumati mother and infant daughter saw a sea monster the size of a small whale in 2007 splashing in the shallows.

New Zealand paleontologist Alan Marks founded the theory that a population of Mosasaurs, giant, flesh eating, marine lizards of the Cretaceous period, still exists, albeit a very small one, that live in the depths of the Pacific ocean, though occasionally areas such as the Atlantic and Indian oceans where they are sometimes spotted

4. Kumi Lizard

A large lizard reaching a length of around five to six feet. The Kumi Lizard was supposed to inhabit streams, and was proficient at burrowing. It had a serrated dorsal crest and large teeth, which caused the upper lip to protrude. Possibly a form of monitor lizard.

5. Lakey

The monster of Lake Coleridge near Canterbury on the South Island. The monster is supposed to drag away fishermen’s rods.

In 1972 the beast was blamed for the disappearance of a fisherman. His upturned boat was found but no body ever turned up. Many locals refused to fish on the lake after that.

In 1975 two women reported seeing the monster’s head rise up from the lake. It was described as wolf like but hairless. In the same year a teacher and his wife saw he creature grab and eat a large water bird.

In 1976 a farmer on the west side of the lake began losing considerable numbers of sheep when they went to drink by the waters edge. Investigating noticed a dark shadow just below the surface of the water where a lamb was moving to take a sip. He shouted, and the huge shape shot off.

In 1977 several witnesses see a large monster, 16 feet long, rolling around on the surface, snapping its jaws. News of the sighting spreads like wildfire. The creature is described as gray, with four visible flippers and no obvious dorsal fin. Overall it was quite "fish-like".

After this a hunter from Otago decided to finish off the monster once and for all. He set off at dawn on a boat rigged with radar, harpoons. He was out on the Lake for two weeks but failed to uncover anything but the occasional big blip on the radar.

Deciding to have one last shot at it, he put on his wetsuit and dived under. When beneath the water, he found his boat was directly above the wreck of a yacht, which was lying on the bottom of the lake. Curious, he investigated the yacht. As he turned back up to resurface, he was struck in the ribs by a huge force. Not staying around to see what it was, he got back to his boat and left.

In 1979 a group of fisherman on the lakes western most shore saw the creature. The animal was seen to stare at them with its head partially above water. For some time it swam in slow circles, not taking its eyes off the men, then left to beneath the water. The next morning a huge, snake like trail was found in the mud.

Overall the descriptions sound like a big leopard seal.

6. The moa

World famous, flightless birds. The last of them supposedly died out several hundred years ago. There have been reports of moas surviving even today in remote areas. Tracks have also been found and a blurry photo purporting to be a moa have been taken. January 20, 1993, in the Craigieburn Range. Three individuals sighted and one of them photographed what they insisted was a six-foot-tall bird. They swore it was a moa, not an emu, ostrich, red deer, or any of the other expert-proposed or media-suggested animal candidates.

Paddy Freaney, current hotel owner and former instructor with the SAS, and his companions Sam Waby and Rochelle Rafferly were walking in the Canterbury high country when they came upon a large bird. “The minute I saw it, I knew what it was,” Freaney said soon afterwards. “I believe it was a moa.”

It was about a metre off the ground, with a long, thin neck of another metre’s (three feet’s) length, ending in a small head and beak. It was covered in reddish-brown and gray feathers. The large, thick legs were covered with feathers almost to the knee joint, with bare legs below, and huge feet.

The large bird ran off across a stream when the witnesses disturbed it. Freaney dashed after the animal and took a photograph of it at a distance of 35 to 40 metres. He also snapped a picture a minute later of what he thought was the bird’s wet footprint on a rock. He also took photographs of similar prints in shingle by the river bed.

The out-of-focus view of the bird has a rock formation obscuring its legs. From what can be seen, the moa appears to be medium brown, with a horizontal body, a tall, erect neck, and a head which may have been looking toward the camera. An image-processing group at the University of Canterbury’s electrical and electronic engineering department spent three days analyzing the blurred photograph.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Kevin Taylor said the analysis had gone as far as it could go, but in his judgment it confirmed that the object was a large bird.

7. Waitoreke

Maoris and early colonists on the nation’s South Island frequently reported a small otter like animal known as the waitoreke. Captain Cook himself reports the sighting of one described as a cat sized, short legged animal with a bushy tail.

In the 1840s Walter Mantell - son of naturalist Gideon Mantell reported an animal known to the natives that was as big as a cat, short legged and bushy tailed. It laid eggs.

Around 1855 the Rev. Richard Taylor interviewed a man who claimed repeated observations of an animal in the Middle Island, near Dusky Bay, on the southwest coast. The witness called it a muskrat from the strong smell it emitted. He said its tail was thick and resembled a beaver’s tail.
Another witness, Tamihana te Rauparaha, judged it to be more than double the size of the Norway rat and to possess a large, flat tail. A man named Tom Crib said he himself had not seen the “beavers” but on several occasions had come upon their habitations. He had seen little streams dammed up as well as houses like beehives erected on one side, having two entrances, one from above and the other below the dam.

A decade or so later Ferdinand von Hochstetter wrote: “From certain terms occurring in the Maori language, and from the most recent observations we may infer beyond doubt, that New Zealand still harbors some few sporadic mammalia, which have thus far escaped the searching eye of science. Besides these names we find the name Waitoreke, which has been only lately clearly defined, having been hitherto applied sometimes to an otter-like, and sometimes to a seal-like animal. According to the reports of Dr. J. Haast, the existence of this animal has been recently established beyond a doubt; it lives in the rivers and lakes in the mountain ranges of the South Islands, is of the size of a large cony with glossy brown fur, and is probably to be classed with the otters.”

More recently the creature has been reported in the Steveburn Stram, near he Wakea River, Southland. It resembled an otter, this was in 1968. In 1971 an otter like beast was seen sliding down a river bank and scrambling back up again as if playing. This was on the Hollyford River. The witness observed the creature for a quarter of an hour.

The most recent sighting was in Gisbourne during the 1980s.The creature was 1.5 m long and displaying sea otter like behavior by smashing shells on its chest. The sighting lasted a good 20 minutes with the creature about 10 m away showing total disregard for the witness.
Maori words for this animal have a root meaning “bone spur”. This may be a reference to the poison spurs that monotremes have. Perhaps the waitoreke is one of these primitive egg laying mammals.

8. Huia

An exquisite bird found only in New Zealand with black glossy feathers and orange wattles. Their beaks were sexually dimorphic, the males having stout beaks and the females curved ones. The males used their beaks to chisel into wood in search of insects whilst the female used hers to winkle out prey.

The Maori hunted the huia for it’s feathers but white settlers hunted it on mass as well as introducing predators and cutting down the forests were he bird lived and fed. It is thought to have died out in the early 20th century. However throughout the 1920s there were continued sightings that suggests the bird may have survived.

On October 12th 1961 Margaret Hutchinson saw a huia at Lake Waikareti in the Urewera State Forest. More recently the CFZ’s Danish representative Dr Lars Thomas saw a huia in the Pureora Forest.

9. The New Zealand Big Cats

Just as in the UK there are many reports of big cats living wild in New Zealand.

Sightings began in 1996 when a large black cat, about the size of a Labrador was seen by a woman who was mountain biking in the Twizel area. The cat was seen at a distance of about 30 metres. In August 1998 another large cat resembling a Mountain Lion was observed in the Dunstan Ranges near Cromwell, once again the animal was described as the size of a Labrador and having a dark orange – mustard coloured pelt.

July 1999 and another sighting of a large black panther was reported, this time however in the Mackenzie Country.

A report also came in from a Pest Destruction Officer from Banks Peninsular.
Also in July, a Mountain Lion was photographed crossing a paddock near Omarama.

December of 1999 saw sightings of what has come to be known as the “Moeraki Mountain Lion”. This cat was seen by Canadian tourists as it sunned itself on rocks near Moeraki, South of Omaru. It was described as being distinctly Mountain Lion-like, which these tourists had themselves seen in their native habitat, about 3 metres long and golden coloured. The cat on being spotted sauntered from the rocks and disappeared from view. The tourists were met with some ridicule; the sighting was however given some serious consideration by a local restaurateur, who offered a reward for conclusive proof of the creature’s existence, none was ever forthcoming.

Another cat to gain fame and a name was a large Mountain Lion-like animal seen in the Lindis Pass area in 1999. It was hiding in the undergrowth and photographed by a pair of British tourists and came to be known as the “Lindis Lion”.

Early 2001 and the Ashford Black cat was once again seen in the Bushside area of Ashford Forest.

The winter of 2001 brought renewed sightings on a farm in the Winterslow area of the Ashford Forest, it was another sighting of the big black cat, this time it was seen in a deer enclosure at twilight.

A similar animal was also seen in the Anama area, and made this area its home for the next two years, creating sporadic sightings until 2003.

A Black cat was also sighted in the Mayfield area near Ashburton in October.
2001 also saw the Fairlington area become the home of a large Black Cat.

2003 and yet again another sighting of the mystery cat in the Ashford forest area, this time however the owners of the property where the cat was sighted had noted strange behavior among the stock on their property at the time the cat was sighted.

November once again saw a team of investigators and an Orana Wildlife Park cat expert descend on the area and look for signs of the big cat’s presence, but nothing conclusive was found.

October 2003 also brought renewed sightings of the Fairlington Cat, which was seen lurking behind a fence near the stockyards of the PPCS Meat works.

2005 and a new sighting of another large Black Panther and it was seen and photographed at Lake Clearwater, in the hills which overlook the Clearwater settlement.
May of 2005 produced yet another Mountain Lion sighting, this time in Queenstown, by an Australian Tourist, the cat was seen in some scrub near the Heritage Hotel, described as being the size of a Golden Retriever Dog, but it moved and walked like a cat.

On May 29th 2008 at 5 pm during a rescue exercise staged at a quarry a large cat described as possibly being a lion was seen at a quarry in Kaiwaka.

The cat was seen on the edge of the Parker Lime Quarry on Gibsons Rd, at a distance of about 30 metres standing on a ridge by Volunteer Fire fighter Carl Swanson (18) during a Search and Rescue exercise.

During the exercise Swanson played the part of a victim in a car in the quarry, as he was waiting to be rescued he look up the hill and saw the Cat.

He described the cat as being about the size of a Labrador and about two metres long.

He commented: " I told my colleague and it (the lion) was actually looking at us... like staring for a good one minute before it stood up and started walking on the edge of the quarry".

He also said "That was the walk of a lion.... really soft.

The cat was described as massive and kept walking around and eventually disappeared.

There have apparently been no reports of cattle or sheep maulings in the area.

John Bomar - Volunteer Fire Brigade chief began investigating the incident and came across a local man who is now a Minister.

Bowmar said, "He’s no idiot. (He) saw it years ago, he was out duck shooting. It was a huge cat. There was no point in me shooting it. I turned tail and ran".

Bomar had been told the fireman reported the incident to the police

Parker Lime Company Quarry Manager talked to staff about the incident and they felt it may be one of the extremely large cats that prowl the bush around the quarry site.

10. The Laughing owl

The Laughing Owl was a moderate sized Owl 14 – 15” in height and with a wingspan of 10.4”.
It had reddish brown plumage streaked with darker brown and a white face. It was so named because its call sounded like maniacal laughter.

The North and South Island birds were of different sub-species.

The birds only called while on the wing, calls were mainly heard on dark, drizzly nights or preceding rain.

The South Island birds were larger than the smaller North Island species; males were generally smaller than females.

Abundant until around 1845, within 40 years this charming little bird had disappeared.
However, the call of the Laughing Owl has been heard often since and there are those that believe it may not be so extinct as thought.

This species preferred open country for hunting, and rocky areas for shelter and the rocky areas of the Southern Alps were very much suited to its needs, as were areas of Canterbury and Otago. They showed a preference for low rainfall areas of the country.

Nelson and Fiordland were also areas favoured by these birds and remains were found on Stewart Island in 1881. In the North Island they were said to inhabit the Ureweras, inhabiting holes in the cliffs, in the upper reaches of the ranges. They also inhabited the Hakoke Cliffs.

It fed on Lizards, insects and small birds for the plentiful fossilised pellets that have been discovered give clear indication of their diet. It was a ground feeder with sturdy legs that preferred to run its prey down. Nesting was generally on bare ground and in rocky crevices. The nests were made of dry grass and two white eggs were laid.

This bird was known to the Tuhoi People in Te Ureweras in the North Island. Birds were said to be found in the Albany area near Timaru in pre-European times.

A North Island bird was collected from Mt Egmont in 1856 and Wairarapa in 1868; around this time birds were also reported from the Porirua area and Te Karaka.

Mr W.W Smith managed to breed some of these birds in captivity in February of 1882. Several fine specimens along with eggs were dispatched to Buller, along with letters describing the breeding behaviour and care.

July 1914 saw the last sighting of a Laughing Owl; a specimen was found dead at the Blue Cliffs Station in Canterbury.

The only physical proof of these birds that remained was 57 type specimens and 17 eggs in public collections (Worthy 1997).

It seemed however, the Laughing Owl was not totally through. Unconfirmed sightings of Laughing Owls came in from the North Island in 1925 and in 1927 one was supposedly heard at Lake Waikaremoana when it flew over giving a weird cry, almost maniacal in nature.

In the 1940’s a Laughing Owl was reported spotted in the Pakahi near Opotiki (Parkinson).

1950 saw a sighting at Manapouri.

In the South Island in February of 1956 eggshell fragments were found at Saddle Hill in Fiordland.

The most recent hope for this species came from the Canterbury region in 1960 when what appeared to be reasonably fresh eggshell fragments were found.

Various expeditions have been mounted to try and find the Laughing Owl and the results have often been inconclusive. There have been possible calls heard and occasional pellets and egg fragments, but never any glimpse of this elusive bird.

Why these birds became extinct is somewhat of a mystery. Their decline over 40 years has puzzled many. It is believed the invasion of weasels, stoats and feral cats may have spelt their doom. Rats were no problem to these species as they actually provided a new food source for this bird as evidenced from pellets that have been found.

Whatever the reason for their decline unconfirmed reports still continue to come from areas such as Fiordland and various areas of New Zealand. But still no photos or live birds. Perhaps in the remote areas of Fiordland the damp night sky still rings with the maniacal laugh of this enigma.

Hopefully perhaps the Laughing Owl may have not yet had the last laugh.


Jon Downes said...

"Taniwha" is a generic term for "Sea monster" and is related to the Polynesian word for "Shark". I do not know what the name is in the Phillipines but it is exactly parrallel and rendered in Spanish as "Chacon". There are definite crocodilelike and Mosasaurian Taniwhas, bigger than C. porosis and said to be as large as a whale, but also unknown sharks and giant eels in the category. There are also "Taniwha" Longneck depictions in rock art that show definitely Plesiosaurian anatomy. (It is here that the New Zealand type comes in, there are parallel examples in the Phillipines) These are illustrated in the photo section of this group.

There is another size range for suspected giant monitor lizard between the Kumi lizards and the Taniwhas, and they are called Ngarana lizards. The name is also in use to the north and it is supposed to be about the size of a Komodo dragon.

Commentators frequently fail to make the distinction that there are at least three categories in Moa sightings at small, medium and large categories. The smaller one is about the size of a turkey and the medium one about the size of an emu. One of the first and largest "Moa" sightings was something like 20 feet tall on the shore of a lake: that was possibly a confused sighting of a longnecked water monster.

Other water monsters reported in the area are probable elephant seals."

Tony Lucas - Citizen Scientist said...

Dale I tend to agree with your comments regarding the Moa, what is also not generally recognised is that there are at least six species of Moehau commented on in this country as well. A future article and I am writing also makes comment on the Taniwha enigma. Some say they are the result of ancestral memories of crocodiles from the Maori homeland, I firmly believe that these could be oral traditions other species of crocodile that once dwelt here, which a piece of fossil was found not so long ago, and may have died out during early Maori occupation.

There is substantial proof of the existence of the Ngarana lizard and this comes from a ramus of the lower jaw and rib of a pleurodont lizard from the Ernscleugh Cave in Central Otago and mentioned in a paper presented by Mr W.F. Hutton to the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1875 (Hutton, 1875)
I recently followed up one of these reports of these magnificent lizards which I accidentally came across while reading a history of the Napier aquarium Society, apparently a large monitor like this was seen on the coast and members from the Society sent out a search party to try and find the lizard regrettably to no avail.

my wife who Maori is also told me that among her people the Taniwha is more a spiritual link with the natural world personified.

Interestingly a friend of mine was was pursuing reports of a lake monster in Lake Taupo and came across a perfectly good geological reasons for the wakes and boiling disturbed water sometimes encountered on the lake.
They may actually be due to underwater subsidence in these very hydrothermal eight active areas.