The Tairawhiti extinction cemetery

SILENT VICTIMS: Gisborne Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Quirk stands next to his homage to specimens of lesser known animal, plant and fish life that once flourished in this region. The Tairawhiti Extinction Cemetery was his entry in the 2017 Te Ha Art Awards. The theme of the awards was the impact of settlement on wildlife and plant life in this region. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

NEW ZEALANDERS are aware of our extinct native wildlife such as the moa and huia, but not as much about other species of birds, fish and plants, says Gisborne Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Quirk.

For the 2017 Te Ha art awards, with its theme of the impact of settlement on wildlife and plant life in this region, Mr Quirk created clay crosses stamped with the names of some of Tairawhiti’s lost species. He fired them in a kiln and arranged them in a triangular formation that brings to mind the endless rows of white crosses, stretching into the distance, where the fallen from two world wars lie in war cemeteries.

“In some ways there’s been a battle on our doorstep for our wildlife,” Mr Quirk said.

“These are the silent victims.”

Among fish, plants and animals lost to changes in land use, increased urbanisation and predation is the native grayling.

“Today, there are probably only a couple of dozen specimens in existence, carefully preserved in museum collections,” a NIWA information page says.

Grayling

The grayling was New Zealand’s only herbivorous fish. It grazed on a mixture of algae, cyanobacteria, microbe and detritus found on rocks and boulders.

Although Maori caught fish from the shoaling species in fish traps, the grayling was widespread in the early 1800s. But the fish’s numbers began to decline soon after Europeans arrived in New Zealand.

As early as the 1870s, biologists expressed concern about their decline. In 1930, the Marine Department announced the grayling was on the verge of extinction.

The last record of the fish is found in film footage that was shot at Waiapu River in the 1920s, Mr Quirk said.

Bush wren

The matuhituhi, or bush wren, also features among those extinct, lesser-know species in Mr Quirk’s homage. The small, almost flightless bird was endemic to New Zealand.

“The bush wren was last seen in 1973 at Lake Waikareiti near Lake Waikaremoana. Its demise was most probably due to predation by rats.”

This was despite six birds being transferred to a nearby rat-free island in 1964.

To describe the layout of Mr Quirk’s stamped crosses as a flight formation is an uncomfortable irony given that among the extinct is the whekau or laughing owl.

Laughing owl

About twice the size of a morepork, the whekau’s repertoire included ‘doleful shrieks' and a 'prolonged cack-cack-cack' which was reportedly repeated incessantly on rainy nights, says nzbirdsonline.

Its call was similar to ‘two men cooeying to each other over a distance’ given by a captive pair at dusk, and a barking noise ‘just like the yelping of a young dog’.

One of the last places the laughing owl was seen was at Te Reinga in the 1920s, Mr Quirk said.

“We have had a lot of impact locally on a lot of species.”

NEW ZEALANDERS are aware of our extinct native wildlife such as the moa and huia, but not as much about other species of birds, fish and plants, says Gisborne Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Quirk.

For the 2017 Te Ha art awards, with its theme of the impact of settlement on wildlife and plant life in this region, Mr Quirk created clay crosses stamped with the names of some of Tairawhiti’s lost species. He fired them in a kiln and arranged them in a triangular formation that brings to mind the endless rows of white crosses, stretching into the distance, where the fallen from two world wars lie in war cemeteries.

“In some ways there’s been a battle on our doorstep for our wildlife,” Mr Quirk said.

“These are the silent victims.”

Among fish, plants and animals lost to changes in land use, increased urbanisation and predation is the native grayling.

“Today, there are probably only a couple of dozen specimens in existence, carefully preserved in museum collections,” a NIWA information page says.

Grayling

The grayling was New Zealand’s only herbivorous fish. It grazed on a mixture of algae, cyanobacteria, microbe and detritus found on rocks and boulders.

Although Maori caught fish from the shoaling species in fish traps, the grayling was widespread in the early 1800s. But the fish’s numbers began to decline soon after Europeans arrived in New Zealand.

As early as the 1870s, biologists expressed concern about their decline. In 1930, the Marine Department announced the grayling was on the verge of extinction.

The last record of the fish is found in film footage that was shot at Waiapu River in the 1920s, Mr Quirk said.

Bush wren

The matuhituhi, or bush wren, also features among those extinct, lesser-know species in Mr Quirk’s homage. The small, almost flightless bird was endemic to New Zealand.

“The bush wren was last seen in 1973 at Lake Waikareiti near Lake Waikaremoana. Its demise was most probably due to predation by rats.”

This was despite six birds being transferred to a nearby rat-free island in 1964.

To describe the layout of Mr Quirk’s stamped crosses as a flight formation is an uncomfortable irony given that among the extinct is the whekau or laughing owl.

Laughing owl

About twice the size of a morepork, the whekau’s repertoire included ‘doleful shrieks' and a 'prolonged cack-cack-cack' which was reportedly repeated incessantly on rainy nights, says nzbirdsonline.

Its call was similar to ‘two men cooeying to each other over a distance’ given by a captive pair at dusk, and a barking noise ‘just like the yelping of a young dog’.

One of the last places the laughing owl was seen was at Te Reinga in the 1920s, Mr Quirk said.

“We have had a lot of impact locally on a lot of species.”

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