Webbster Decline


When the first Polynesian settlers arrived in New Zealand, they found an island archipelago populated with bizarre wildlife.

Unlike all other major land masses in the world, New Zealand had no land mammals, except for three species of bats. Instead, birds, reptiles and insects had evolved to inherit the full range of ecological opportunities available. Some birds occupied niches normally occupied by mammals!

It was a Noah’s Ark of fascinating evolutionary experiments. Instead of mice, New Zealand had bush wrens. Instead of giraffes or kangaroos, New Zealand had the giant moa. And instead of rabbits or rodents, New Zealand had the Brown Teal.

A small agile duck that scurried around in the dark, the Brown Teal would have filled summer nights with the rasping quacks and whistles of its breeding repertoire.

The first Polynesian settlers, the Maori, found the Brown Teal easy to catch, and hunted it for its meat and feathers. The Polynesian dog and rat, which came to New Zealand with the Maori, also preyed on the birds and their eggs.

Then when early European settlers arrived, they found the bird to be extremely easy to hunt and greatly accelerated the Brown Teal’s demise. Wetland and habitat destruction and modification, increased hunting, and the release of further introduced predators, such as cats, two further rat species, ferrets and stoats wreaked havoc on the remnant populations on the mainland.

By the early 1980’s, the Brown Teal had now been reduced to a small population on the east coast of Northland and its last strong hold on Great Barrier Island. Few people saw Brown Teal any more, and no one actively cared for them.