'Exciting' moa bones discovery

Last updated 13:00 20/02/2014
Moa bones
BIG ONE: Liam Bolitho with a moa bone he found in caves at Mt Owen.

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A conservationist's quest to track kea on Mt Owen led to the remains of a much larger bird.

Conservationist Cory Mosen and colleague Liam Bolitho found two sets of moa bones in caves on the mountain in the Kahurangi National Park.

They were camping on Mt Owen to catch kea and fit them with transmitters for the Department of Conservation ahead ahead of 1080 drops in the national park.

Mr Mosen and Mr Bolitho found two caves, about 500 metres apart, each containing bones from about three moa, as well as kea, fossilised kakapo excrement and other native birds Mr Mosen could not identify.

He said there were piles of bones in the caves, including kea skulls, and a whole skeleton of an unfortunate deer, which seemed to have fallen into the cave head first - its skull was wedged between two rocks.

However, it was the moa which were "pretty exciting" for the experienced caver and conservationist.

Mr Mosen said the moa were of varying sizes, with the bones in the second cave a third bigger than those in the first cave.

"I always keep my eyes open for moa bones in caves. I always wanted to find them; this was the first time I found them."

In both caves the moa were quite close to the cave entrances.

They sent in other cavers to check out the bones and a GPS co-ordinator, but Mr Mosen left the bones where they were. Mr Mosen, a keen conservation photographer, also took photos to show to other interested conservationists as well as biologists and researchers.

He said it was a useful discovery and hoped the bones could be used for further research.

"I think we can find out lots of information, they can find out about the ancient bird's life and for me, I am interested in the kea, we can hopefully get some DNA from the bones."

University of Canterbury biology professor Richard Holdaway said they were looking into the discovery, and said the bones may have been recorded before. He said there had been many moa bone discoveries in the Mt Owen area of Kahurangi.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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