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Museum moa ready for his close-up

Museum moa ready for his close-up

by Kirsten MacFarlane - Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Getting the perfect shot of the beady-eyed (but poor-sighted) creature was challenging

Getting the perfect shot of the beady-eyed (but poor-sighted) creature was challenging

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Summer is the season for … giant moa. Or at least it is at Auckland Museum. In preparation for our family holiday programme ‘The Moa and the Mummy’ we’ve been carrying out a photo shoot that brought us unusually close to our towering moa.

It’s not every day you get to eyeball a moa. Museum photographer Krzysztof Pfeiffer had the daunting task of shooting a close-up of the moa’s head for the Museum’s What’s On publication. The three-metre moa is a star attraction for visitors to the Origins Gallery —although the view from below offers distorted views of this flightless wonder.

Getting the perfect shot of the beady-eyed (but poor-sighted) creature was challenging, especially in the gallery’s low-light conditions. Display Team Leader Andrew Jary arrived with a cherry picker, and cranked the photographer into position – three metres into the air and face to face with our moa. Graphic designer David Coventon directed the action from below.

“We couldn’t get inside the glass case, so Krzysztof had to shoot through the glass.  And that was tricky because any lighting we added bounced off the glass,” says Coventon. The moa will feature in the Museum’s ‘The Moa and The Mummy’ summer holiday programme which is delving into the ‘Secrets and Science’ of these iconic artefacts.

Moa birds disappeared from New Zealand following the arrival of human settlers in the 13th century, and when their bones were discovered by Europeans in the 1830s, the birds were declared a scientific marvel. Much about this lumbering odd-ball of the bird world is a mystery.  

Although samples from hundreds of moa bones from New Zealand, have given scientists valuable insights into DNA half-life. In a paper recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists revealed how they used moa fossil bones to determine long-term DNA survival and how DNA decays over thousands of years.  But don’t expect a Jurassic Park-like resurrection of the moa; that remains firmly in the realm of Hollywood make-believe and Air New Zealand promotional ads.

Still that hasn’t stopped generations of Kiwis hunting for clues—or any survivors.  The last recorded ‘sighting’ was in 1993, with South Island publican Paddy Freaney producing a grainy photo of a bird-like creature in Craigieburn Valley.

  • Post by: Kirsten MacFarlane

    Kirsten MacFarlane is a part-time editor and writer for Auckland Museum. She also edits and writes feature articles for various publications.

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