Flying. My first question: How do you cross the world without destroying it? Answer: In our current world .. you can’t.
I had been given an opportunity to assist with a Governmental conservation project in New Zealand radio-tracking kiwi in a study population on The South Island. I lived in the UK Midlands, literally a world away.
Forty years ago a greater percentage of my longer distance trips could be by train, bus and boat. Now the market has so prioritised flight that long distance land and ocean travel alternatives has virtually become extinct.
The theory goes: Terrestrial animals evolve flight to lessen predation pressures in an overcrowded terrestrial world, gaining the advantage of an aerial habitat less exploited.
These bird species eventually fill ancestral skies and move on through flight to access more and more distant and isolated lands.
Finding little native terrestrial competition some birds can regain the advantages of terrestrial life by devolving the expensive system of flight.
New Zealand was one such isolated land, breaking early from ancestral Gondwanaland and losing vital land bridges to evolving terrestrial animals like the Mammals.
It eventually evolved to hold the greatest concentration of flightless birds on the planet including the giant Moa and the Kiwi.
The beginning: New Zealand started drifting with remnants of Gondwanaland on-board, including ancestors of the Podocarps and Southern Beeches, invertebrates, reptiles like the Tuatara, its endemic frog families, birds and even one terrestrial mammal.
Colonisation moves forward as air and seaborne species find the drifting islands. New Zealand’s native fauna develops over 21000 (and counting) invertebrates, over 200 bird and 100 reptile species but only four extant amphibians and no extant terrestrial mammals, though tow bats species appear.
Then 800 years ago Polynesians arrive shadowed by the Polynesian Rat. The loss of smaller, then larger ground nesting birds such as the Moa occurs as cultures develop. 400 years ago European settlers through acclimatisation projects introduce 30 species of animals ranging from the carnivorous cat and stoat to the herbivorous domestic cattle and at least 7 species of deer.
To date around 50 species (c.20%) of native birds have become extinct in New Zealand.
The flightless Kiwi typifying how colonising terrestrial mammalian carnivores like the stoat and rat do not mix well with the endemic fauna.
Kiwi chicks up to a year old cannot defend themselves from stoat predation leading to huge declines in Kiwi numbers. For 20 years Governmental community projects have been attempting to turn around this situation.
At present the most effective solutions surround rearing populations on predator free islands for re-release into mainland areas under predator control.
THEIR PLIGHT, MY FLIGHT
I eventually travelled to assist with the Haast Tokoeka programme monitoring the travails of breeding pairs under constant stoat predation threat using radio tags on adults and chicks.
One thing I learned, Kiwi protection, like their lifestyles, only happens over the long haul.