Koau

Unknown flightless Bird of Oceania.

Etymology: Marquesan (Austronesian) word. Variant name: Koao.

Physical description: Similar to a rail. Size of a chicken. Purplish-blue plumage. Yellow bill. Stumpy wings. Long, yellow legs.

koau 277

Behavior: Runs rapidly. Burrows in the mud. Distribution: Hiva Oa, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia.

Significant sighting: Thor Heyerdahl and a native named Terai were horseback riding on Hiva Oa in 1937 when they saw a seagull-sized, wingless bird run along the trail and disappear into some ferns.

Present status: Possibly recently extinct, the victim of hunters. Possible explanations:

(1) Surviving flightless rail (Porphyrio paepae) related to the Takahe (P. mantelli hochstetteri) of New Zealand and known from subfossil bones discovered on Hiva Oa and Tahuata in 1988, proposed by Michel Raynal.

(2) The Spotless crake (Porzana tabuensis), a black rail 6—8 inches long, also called the koao, suggested by Jean-Jacques Barloy. It runs swiftly and lives in some valleys on Ua Pou and Fatu Hiva. However, koao may refer to both the crake and an unknown rail.

Sources: Francis Mazière, Archipel du Tiki (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1957), p. 261; Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature (London: Allen and Unwin, 1974), p. 225; Jean-Jacques Barloy, Merveilles et mystères du monde animal (Geneva, Switzerland: Famot, 1979), pp. 115-117; Michel Raynal, "'Koau,' l'oiseau insaisissable des Iles Marquises," Bulletin de la Société d'Etude des Sciences Naturelles de Béziers, new ser., 8 (1980-1981): 20-26; Michel Raynal and Michel Dethier, "Lézards géants des Maoris et oiseau énigmatique des Marquisiens: La vérité derrière la légende," Bulletin Mensuel de la Société Linnéenne de Lyon 59, no. 3 (1990): 85-91; Michel Raynal, "The Mysterious Bird of Hiva-Oa," INFO Journal, no. 73 (Summer 1995): 17-21, updated in http://perso.wanadoo.fr/ cryptozoo/dossiers/hiva_eng.htm.

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