Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Moa fantasy a dead duck

Trevor Mallard has advocated for the return of the moa. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Trevor Mallard has advocated for the return of the moa. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In a speech that could be described as wide-ranging but would perhaps better be described as rambling, a senior member of the New Zealand Parliament advocated bringing the extinct moa back to life as a tourist attraction for the Rimutaka National Park.

Before we dismiss Trevor Mallard's suggestion out of hand - and we'll be doing that shortly - we should note that it raises an interesting question: was he tripping?

Let's assume not.

In fact, the science of de-extinction, as it's ungracefully called, is well advanced.

In 2003, scientists used stored cells from a specimen of the extinct bucardo or Pyrenean ibex to create a clone, although it survived only a few minutes, or slightly longer than the average lifespan of a leader of the Labour Party.

It's hard to understand the current mania for bringing back things that disappeared for very good reasons, a trend I date from the re-introduction of the Georgie Pie.

Once people accepted that, the door was wide open.

Although he admitted the scheme was "a bit Jurassic Park" - which it is, in the same way that terrorist group ISIS is a bit extreme - Mallard maintained it would perk up folk around Wainuiomata no end.

Attempting to head off his critics at the pass, he pointed out that people once laughed at those who said the kiwi would return to Wainuiomata.

They also laughed at those who believe jet vapour trails are poisoning us and many other funny people.

To be clear, Mallard is not talking about the biggest of the moa - max height 3.6m - beloved of children's picture books.

Why, that would be silly.

He has in mind something more bijou, with that elusive maximum cute factor. He wants something "that I could pat on the head".

He must be missing John Banks.

If Mallard thinks the moa will stand still to have its head patted, he doesn't know much about birds in general.

And of course, he says that now, but you know how these things work. Pretty soon the handbag-sized birds just aren't providing the same kick and you start wanting something a bit stronger. Before you know it, you're bringing velociraptors back to life and there are flocks of pterodactyls blotting out the sun and endangering low-flying aircraft.

Reviving the moa would be a step backwards in every sense. I've long said that everyone owes a great debt to Maori for hunting the moa to extinction.

Imagine what life would be like if they hadn't. The birds would be protected, for a start, able to roam with impunity wherever they felt like it, crashing through suburban vegetable gardens, getting tangled up in people's washing and tipping over prams.

Moa swallowed rocks to aid digestion, so within a matter of weeks the ubiquitous pebble gardens of Grey Lynn and Ponsonby would be transformed into a wasteland.

I'm surprised it wasn't Simon Bridges, the Minister for Energy and Resources, advocating this. It would allow him to have the best of both worlds.

If we knew we could de-extinguish Maui dolphins, for example, we could drill with impunity for oil and gas now in the knowledge that later on we could bring back the animals we had exterminated.

Rather than daydreaming about undoing the past, we need to concentrate on making sure that our nearly 3000 endangered species have a future.

It's not too late to prevent their disappearance. And it's much easier to save an apparently doomed species than to resurrect one.

Although, with this sort of thinking at its senior levels, I'm not sure that rule applies to the Labour Party.

- Herald on Sunday

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