15 Mar 2015

The Moa Mania of 1993

From Spectrum, 12:10 pm on 15 March 2015

‘I wrestled him – big as a deer, I’d say – but we crashed down a slope and he ran away. Yeah - it was a bird, alright!’

This 'encounter' with a moa was just one of many eye-popping stories which surfaced in 1993 after Irishman Paddy Freaney, host of the Bealey pub near Arthur’s Pass on the South Island's West Coast, made public his sighting of a large moa.

Paddy’s sighting of what was thought to be a long extinct native bird, sparked off a moa mania that was picked up by press, radio and television around the world, not to mention the gleeful responses of the inhabitants in the tiny Lake Brunner settlement of Moana, near where the moa was seen.

Moana locals claimed to have seen moa in the main street running past the pub.

A nearby zoo owner insisted that she had captured a pair but they escaped. British bookmakers put the existence of the moa at 1000 to 1, same as the Loch Ness Monster but this didn’t throw the locals.

"Scotland has its Loch Ness Monster,  Nessie, so why can’t we have a Lake Brunner Moa, Brunnessie", they argued.

‘Moa hunters’, in the form of commercial radio personalities, helicoptered in armed with plastic hunting rifles. This failed to amuse Paddy Freaney who insisted that his sighting was no joke.

Spectrum’s Jack Perkins compiled a special report on Moa Mania (first broadcast in January 1993).

Moa Mania
Left: Heavy-footed Moa. Pachyornis elephantopus. From the series: Extinct Birds of New Zealand., 2005, Masterton, by Paul Martinson. Purchased 2006. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (2006-0010-1/20)
Right: A reconstruction of Maori hunting Moa, collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Ta-u-rangi, 31840

Ngarua Caves Takaka Hill Tasman CC BY NC ND
Ngarua Caves, Takaka Hill, Tasman. Photo: flyingkiwigirl (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)