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Resource I: Background Facts

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  • Any reported sightings or hearings of the bird's flute-like call had died out by the 1920s.
  • By the 1880s the Huia existed only in the lower half of the North Island mainly in the Wairarapa and Manawatu.
  • Huia feathers were highly prized by Māori for cloaks and the beaks were sometimes worn as jewellery.
  • In the 1880s Māori chiefs in the Manawatu, alarmed by its declining numbers, put a tapu on the Huia.
  • Māori chiefs also asked Europeans to stop killing the bird.
  • In 1888, there is a report of 646 Huia skins being taken by a hunting party of just eleven Māori. The bird was obviously still quite common.
  • In 1892, regulations were passed making it illegal to kill or take Huia.
  • Enforcement of the 1892 law was not taken seriously.
  • At the turn of the century, Huia feathers had become a very popular fashion accessory among European women.
  • Huia beaks were sometimes made into brooches and worn by European women.
  • When the Duke of York (later to become King George V) visited Rotorua while on tour in New Zealand, he was given a huia feather by a Māori chief.
  • For Māori, wearing a huia feather was a symbol of great mana. It showed the wearer was a leader.
  • George V wore a huia feather in his hatband while touring New Zealand in 1902.
  • In 1902, the demand for huia feathers was frenzied and they sometimes fetched £1 (one pound) each.
  • A pound was a very large sum of money in 1900.
  • The last reliable sighting of a huia was in 1907.
  • The huia beak is an item considered tapu (sacred) by Māori.
  • To wear a huia beak as ornamentation was a great honour and one bestowed only on rangatira (chiefs).
  • Although huia were held sacred by Māori and only worn by rangatira, European women in the late 19th century wore the feathers and beaks as fashionable costume jewellery.
  • The Huia was extensively hunted even before the first Europeans set foot in New Zealand.
  • The birds were already in decline when European settlers arrived.
  • The Huia's distinctive, white-tipped black tail feathers were often worn by Māori chiefs as a sign of their status.
  • Huia feathers were revered as taonga (treasures) by Māori.
  • Of the list of New Zealand species known to have become extinct since the first human settlement in this country, more than half had vanished during the period before the Europeans arrived.
  • 21 bird species survived 500 years of human and kiore predation in pre European times - but at least 30 did not.

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