New Zealand: A Natural History

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9781554071968: New Zealand: A Natural History
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A loving celebration of an earthly paradise; a cautionary appeal for environmental wisdom.

"One does not have to look to the universe to behold the unusual. There is so much more to be seen and believed right here in the frequently bizarre nature of New Zealand." -from the prologue

This stunning book combines spectacular photography with natural history and personal experience to guide readers into "the land of the long white cloud." Second only to Hawaii in natural diversity, the New Zealand archipelago has borne centuries of environmental tumult and species destruction. At present, dedicated conservationists are working hard to revive shattered ecosystems and to restore endangered species.

In a heartfelt tribute to those efforts, the authors chronicle the environmental successes and failures while revealing the islands' otherworldly organisms and plant life. All of the photographs were taken either in the wild or in conservation areas, and many reveal plants and creatures rarely before seen.

From cabbage trees not unlike Dr. Seuss' Truffula trees to predatory snails, whiskered parrots and three-eyed lizards, New Zealand: A Natural History reveals a captivating world once thought to reside only in the human imagination. This is an impassioned celebration of the paradise the authors call home.

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About the Author:

Tui De Roy is an author and conservationist whose works include The Andes: As the Condor Flies and Galapagos Islands: Born of Fire, a natural-history classic. She lives and works in New Zealand.

Mark Jones is a New Zealand-based photographer whose work appears in The Andes.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

By its name, New Zealand sounds like something novel. From the human perspective, this young island nation came along very recently indeed. Discovered and settled within the last millennium or so, first by the original Maori people of Polynesian ancestry, who called the land Aotearoa -- 'land of the long white cloud' -- and some centuries afterwards by Europeans, her wild spirit has barely been tamed. Yet from a natural perspective this primordial chunk of earth crust found its tectonic and biological identity long before the other land masses as we know them had even been born.

Eighty million years ago dinosaurs were breathing their last and proto-mammals had barely started cutting their teeth in the Cretaceous forests of the day. At the same time a profusion of birds -- direct cousins of those expiring dinosaurs -- thrived, sharing space with shy, primitive reptiles and frogs. About then, as the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana was fragmenting into separate land masses, one sliver broke away and drifted out alone into the vastness of the open ocean. Riding on this geologic-scale Noah's Ark, a sample of the primal ecosystem thus departed on an independent journey that continues today. A few bats were the only mammalian representatives that belatedly caught up to join a living community where birds would evolve to rule.

In time, and in the absence of other land mammals, these birds would take on the roles of grazers and browsers, predators and pollinators. And so it was that a living time capsule now called New Zealand entered the Eocene age -- the current era -- with a bevy of organisms that almost defy imagination. Giant eagles soared on 3-m (10-ft) wingspans, frogs carried their young on their backs, carnivorous snails and multi-legged worms prowled the forest floor. And a whole range of land birds -- in fact more than half of all New Zealand birds -- lost their ability to fly in favour of a ground-dwelling existence. Flightless parrots, flightless geese, flightless gallinules and even flightless wrens scampered from seashore to mountaintop. Eleven species of moa -- distant relative of ostriches, as is the kiwi -- divided the habitat into a preposterous world of feathered pedestrian giants. There were stout-legged moa, heavy-footed moa, upland moa, slender bush moa, large bush moa, crested moa and the giant moa standing over 3 m (10 ft) tall, as well as a bizarre stocky lizard hunter, named the adzebill, that was related to no-one in particular.

When humans finally arrived, they did not prove to be very careful or considerate custodians of this unusual microcosm. Within a very short time, fire and hunting spelled the extinction of 25 out of 40 flightless New Zealand birds. With the later arrival of European settlers, a second wave of devastation occured, as introduced mammals invaded the landscape. This time, even small flying birds were not spared.

But the extraordinary uniqueness of the New Zealand/Aotearoa fauna endured even after these losses. Today, from one end of the country to the other, teams of tenaciously dedicated men and women are battling against rats, stoats, possums and goats, European gorse, South American passion vine and Asian honeysuckle, to name but a few of the invasive species that are threatening the continued existence of New Zealand's own weird and wonderful species.

In these pages we would like to sing the praises of their successes, warn against the risks that lie ahead, and above all celebrate the natural treasure that New Zealand holds. To do so we share our explorations of this natural world from an intimate perspective. It is through the complex lives of the many rare species, large and small, that we would like to impart our wonder for this extraordinary wild realm. This is a journey where the eons past echo each dawn in the mesmerising chorus of bellbird and tui, kokako and kaka; are reflected in the crystal sunrises over immaculate snowy mountains; felt in the rumble of erupting volcanoes and shuddering earthquakes; and smelled in the musty aroma of misty, moss-spangled podocarp forests.

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Roy, Tui, Jones, Mark
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