Feeds

NZ scientists identify giant, man-eating eagle

Legendary Te Hokioi really existed

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Scientists appear to have confimed that a legendary man-eating flying beast which terrorised New Zealand's Maori actually existed, the Independent reports.

Maori lore tells of the Te Hokioi - a "huge black-and-white predator with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips" - and named after its cry, as locals explained to early NZ governor Sir George Gray.

Maori oral tradition maintains that a Te Hokioi once challenged a hawk to a race to the heavens, a contest which ended with the hawk defeated by clouds and wind, while the Te Hokioi disappeared into the stratosphere.

Researchers now believe the Te Hokioi was indeed a formidable animal, none other than Haast's eagle (Harpagornis moorei), the remains of which were first discovered in the 1870s by Sir Julius von Haast.

Intitial studies of the animal's skull indicated that the 18kg, three metre wingspan bird was a vulture-style scavenger, "because its bill was similar to a vulture's with hoods over its nostrils to stop flesh blocking its air passages as it rooted around inside carcasses".

However, teams from Canterbury Museum in Christchurch and the University of New South Wales in Australia subjected the Te Hokioi's skeleton to re-examination using CAT scans and other advanced techniques to reveal it "had a strong enough pelvis to support a killing blow as it dived at speeds of up to 80km/h".

This structural strength, coupled to talons the size of a tiger's claws, mean the Te Hokioi was more than capable of striking fear into the Maori.

Paul Scofield, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Canterbury Museum, explained: "It was certainly capable of swooping down and taking a child. They had the ability to not only strike with their talons but to close the talons and put them through quite solid objects such as a pelvis. It was designed as a killing machine."

Haast's eagle attacking moa. Art: John Megahan

The Te Hokioi's most likely prey, though, was the flightless moa (see pic above, courtesy of PLoS Biology). Scofield explained: "In some fossil sites, moa bones have been found with signs of eagle predation."

Ultimately, it was probably the Te Hokioi's diet which proved its downfall. There were probably no more than 1,000 breeding pairs at any one time, and its decline was precipitated by the arrival of man in NZ, 1,000 years ago.

Humans hunted the moa into extinction, and the Te Hokioi disappeared from the skies 500 years ago.

The researchers' finding are reported in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. ®

Bootnote

PLoS Biology has more background on the evolution of the Haast's eagle here.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.