The Whanganui Regional Museum holds one of the best collections of moa bones in the world, and soon they will be displayed for the public to see.

The museum has received funding to employ Mike Dickison, an expert in flightless birds, as its curator of natural history - a position the museum has not had since the 1950s.

Dr Dickison's first order of business is to sort through the dozens of boxes of moa bones in the museum archives.

He estimates the museum holds around 1500 moa bones in total, many of which have never been seen by the public or even fully catalogued.


A long-term exhibition of the bones will open at the museum later this year.

"We want to put them on display for both visitors and scientists," Dr Dickison said.

"I did my PhD in flightless birds, but I had no idea this collection was here. If I had, I would definitely have used it."

Most of the bones were excavated from the Makirikiri swamp near Upokongaro in the first half of the 20th century. Dr Dickison said what made the collection remarkable was its diversity - it includes 10 full skeletons as well as moa eggs and other moa artifacts.

"These bones provide a clear picture of what life was like at the Makirikiri swamp a thousand years ago. We have young, old, male and female of four or five different species, it's quite remarkable."

Dr Dickison said moa science was still evolving, and there were many things about these extinct, completely flightless, birds that scientists still don't know.

"When these bones were dug out of the swamp, no one even knew DNA existed.

"Scientists always thought there was a large moa species and a small moa species, but once they started taking DNA samples they discovered the really big moa were female and the small ones were male.


"It's very unusual among birds to have the females so much bigger."

Dr Dickison said there were nine or 10 species of moa known, although scientists still cannot agree on the exact number.

He said as well as making the moa bones more visible, the exhibition means the bones will receive proper care.

"Some would say the bones would have been better left in the swamp, where they would have lasted for another thousand years or more.

"But now that the museum has them, it's our responsibility to look after them."