For millions of years, nine species of large, flightless birds known as moas (Dinornithiformes) thrived in New Zealand. Then, about 600 years ago, they abruptly went extinct. Their die-off coincided with the arrival of the first humans on the islands in the late 13th century, and scientists have long wondered what role hunting by Homo sapiens played in the moas’ decline. Did we alone drive the giant birds over the brink, or were they already on their way out thanks to disease and volcanic eruptions? Now, a new genetic study of moa fossils points to humankind as the sole perpetrator of the birds’ extinction. The study adds to an ongoing debate about whether past peoples lived and hunted animals in a sustainable manner or were largely to blame for the extermination of numerous species.
Story: Virginia Morell, ScienceNow | Photo: Heinrich Harder