Mallard moa call no lame duck

By Zaryd Wilson

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Whanganui Regional Museum curator of natural history Mike Dickison has backed Trevor Mallard's comments on moa resurrection. Photo/Bevan Conley
Whanganui Regional Museum curator of natural history Mike Dickison has backed Trevor Mallard's comments on moa resurrection. Photo/Bevan Conley

The moa could well be a goer - but not just yet.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard was in the spotlight yesterday after suggesting extinct moa could roam the hills of the Hutt Valley in coming decades as a boost to tourism.

His comments to a Wainuiomata business development breakfast provoked plenty of criticism but the resurrection of the bird is not a daft idea, according to a Wanganui expert.

Whanganui Regional Museum curator of natural history Mike Dickison, who did his PhD on flightless birds and oversees one of the best moa bone collections in the world, said the ridicule Mr Mallard faced was unfair. Mr Dickison saw a copy of Mr Mallard's speech yesterday and said what talked about was nothing new.

"It's certainly not wacky or out of the mainstream. This is certainly being talked about. He's obviously really excited about it," Mr Dickison said. "He's got a lot of flak. I don't think that's justified."

Mr Dickison said when species did begin to be resurrected, plenty of easier ones would come first, but birds, including the moa, could not be counted out.

He said it would be much easier to resurrect bird species such as the huia, where similar birds were still in existence. There was nothing like a moa around, which made it harder.

Science didn't yet have the complete genome for any moa species, which would be required before it could even be considered, Mr Dickison said.

"That's the easy part, having all the DNA. "The hard part is how to turn that into an embryo and hatch it."

Mr Dickison said it might be 100 years, it might be 500 years, but it wasn't impossible.

"I think you'd be pretty brave to say 'Oh, you can't do this', even in 100 years.

"That's all Trevor Mallard is talking about. And he's right, it would be nice."

Labour leader David Cunliffe did little to support his caucus colleague's suggestion.

"I don't think this one's going to fly," he said. "There's a lot of scientific work to go under the bridge before moas are going to be flopping around in Wainuiomata. The moa's not a goer."

Prime Minister John Key joked that there were a few moa in the Labour caucus already, while senior minister Steven Joyce facetiously called it "inspired thinking".

Meanwhile, Mr Mallard insisted de-extinction was inevitable and that eventually "a whole pile of species" would be brought back to life.

"The moa will be a goer, but we're talking 50 to 100 years out."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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