Roa Roa

Flightless Bird of New Zealand that might be a surviving moa.

Etymology: Maori (Austronesian) word, also used for the great spotted kiwi of South Island. Variant names: Roa, Rua, Tokoweka. Physical description: A kiwilike bird about the size of a turkey, though larger birds have been reported occasionally. Gray, blue, or spotted plumage. Small head and beak. Long neck. Sharp spurs on its feet.

Behavior: Call is similar to that of a kiwi.

Tracks: Three-toed. The middle toe measures up to 14 inches from heel to tip.

Distribution: South Island, New Zealand; also possibly in Urewera National Park on North Island, New Zealand.

Significant sightings: George Pauley claimed to have seen a bird 20 feet high by a lake in southern South Island in the 1820s.

Walter Buller wrote that the Maoris claimed a large kiwi lived in the Chatham Islands until about 1835.

In January 1861, fresh-looking, three-toed prints about 14 inches long were found in the mountains between Takaka and Riwaka in northern South Island by members of a surveying party.

Sir George Grey was told in 1868 about a small moa captured and killed near Preservation Inlet, North Island. It had been taken from a drove of six or seven birds.

In 1878, several people reported seeing a silver-gray bird larger than an emu on a station near Waiau, South Island. In one instance, a sheepherder's dog flushed the bird from a patch of scrub and chased it for about 40 yards before it turned and chased the dog. The moa stood for ten minutes watching them, bending its long neck up and down like a swan.

Seven-year-old Alice McKenzie touched a big, navy-blue bird at Martin's Bay, near Mil-ford Sound, South Island, in 1880. It was at least 3 feet tall and had dark-green, scaly legs and three claws on each foot. It began to attack her, so she ran home to get her father, who returned and measured the tracks it left.

In 1896, some schoolboys saw a moalike bird cross a road in the Brunner Range, South Island.

In 1963, a scientist saw a large, moalike bird in the brush in the North-West Nelson State Forest Park, South Island.

In May 1991, Jim Straton saw an enormous, dark-colored bird cross a hiking trail in front of him along the Waimakariri River. He estimated its height at 11 feet.

460 RIMI

Moa skeletons and reconstructions in the Dunedin Museum, New Zealand. (From a postcard in the author's collection)

Paddy Freaney and two other hikers photographed a 6-foot-tall moa in the Craigieburn Range of South Island on January 20, 1993. It was covered with reddish-brown and gray feathers and had thick legs and huge feet. Their blurry photo, snapped after the bird had started running away, is inconclusive.

Rex and Heather Gilroy made plaster casts of three-toed tracks, the largest of which were 9.5 inches long, that they found in September 2001 in Urewera National Park, North Island. Possible explanations:

(1) A surviving species of the Moa family (Dinornithidae), possibly the Upland moa (Megalapteryx didinus), which is generally thought to have been exterminated by the seventeenth century. Some Maori informants suggest the bird may have persisted into the late eighteenth century. Relatively fresh remains were occasionally found in the nineteenth century. M. didinus stood about 3 feet 6 inches high, while the Large bush moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae)

was 7 feet tall and the Stout-legged moa (Euryapteryx geranoides) was about 6 feet tall. Most of the alleged sightings by Europeans date from 1850 to 1880. The majority of Maori accounts of the final extinction of the moa place it between 1770 and 1840, though 25 percent of them put it prior to 1600. It seems increasingly unlikely that such a distinctive bird could have survived virtually unnoticed. Frequent moa hunts have failed to turn up any sign of the birds' recent survival.

(2) An unknown species of Kiwi (Apteryx spp.). A cloak made for a Maori chief has kiwilike feathers that are larger than those of any known kiwi.

(3) The Great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haasti) only grows to 2 feet tall and does not have spurs.

(4) The Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) is a rare, flightless rail with blue plumage that lives on South Island.

Sources: Ferdinand von Hochstetter, New


Zealand: Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History (Stuttgart, Germany: J. G. Cotta, 1867), pp. 173, 181-197; Walter Lawry Buller, A History ofthe Birds ofNew Zealand (London: Walter Lawry Buller, 1888); Alice McKenzie Mackenzie, Pioneers of Martins Bay: The Story ofNew Zealand's Most Remote Settlement (Christchurch, New Zealand: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1952); Michael M. Trotter and Beverley McCulloch, "Moas, Men, and Middens," in Paul S. Martin and Richard G. Klein, eds., Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1984), pp. 708-727; Atholl Anderson, Prodigious Birds: Moas and Moa-Hunting in Prehistoric New Zealand (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 176-178; "Trampers See 'Moa' in Bush," New Zealand Herald, January 25, 1993; Geoff Mercer, "Obsession and Stories Sparked by Scientists," Wellington Evening Post, January 26, 1993; "New Zealand Moa Sighting Reported by Three Witnesses," ISC Newsletter 11, no. 4 (1992): 1-5; Karl Shuker, "The Case of the Missing Moa," Fortean Times, no. 69 (June-July 1993): 42-43; H. W. Orsman, ed., The Dictionary of New Zealand English (Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 676; Darren Naish, "Cryptozoology of the Moa: A Review (Part One)," Cryptozoology Review 2, no. 3 (Winter-Spring 1998): 15-24; Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 28-51; Rex Gilroy, "Search for the Little Scrub Moa of New Zealand," Australasian Ufologist 5, no.

Mythical giant BIRD of Madagascar or India.

Etymology: From the Arabic al-Rukhkh ("giant bird").

Variant names: Chrocko, Roche, Roque, Ruc, Rukh. The Roc spelling first appeared in an 1802 translation of Arabian Nights by Edward Forster.

Physical description: Looks like a colossal eagle. Wingspan, 48-90 feet. Each wing has

10,000 feathers, 6-36 feet long. Quills are 6 inches in circumference.

Behavior: Call is an ear-splitting cry. Feeds on snakes and elephants. Said to pick up elephants in its talons and drop them on the ground to kill them. Nests on desolate islands. Lays one egg, said to be 150 feet in circumference.

Distribution: Indian Ocean; Madagascar. Significant sightings: Its first mention in Arabic literature is in Buzurg ibn Shahriyar's Aja'ib al-Hind, a tenth-century description of India.

The legendary Arabian sailor Sindbad escaped from an island by tying himself to the talon of a Roc, which flew away and dropped him off elsewhere. Possible explanations:

(1) The legend is at least partially based on travelers' tales and rumors about the Giant elephantbird (Aepyornis maximus) of Madagascar, which probably was still alive when the French arrived on the island in 1642. This flightless bird stood 9-10 feet tall and weighed around 960 pounds. Its eggs were over a foot in length, had a capacity equivalent to 150 hens' eggs, and constituted the largest single cell known on earth. Arabian merchants started trading in Madagascar in the ninth or tenth century and may have seen Aepyornis eggs. Roc feathers taken from the island might actually have been the midrib of a leaf from the Raffia palm (Raphia farinifera) that grows in Madagascar; the fronds are the largest of any palm, easily growing 27-30 feet long. See VORONPATRA.

(2) A composite of characteristics of vultures, peacocks, and eagles, as well as a personification of waterspouts and other bad weather.

(3) The only two eagles on Madagascar are the Madagascar sea eagle (Haliaeetus vociferoides) and the extremely rare Madagascar serpent eagle (Eutriorchis astur); both are only about 2 feet long and unlikely giant bird candidates.

(4) The Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) is a long-necked, long-legged, elusive bird found in East and South Africa. A ground dweller, it flies rarely and reluctantly. Some

462 ROC

The Arabian sailor Sindbad escapes from an island by clinging to the talon of a giant bird called the ROC. Illustration by H. J. Ford. (Fortean Picture Library)

researchers believe it has reached the upper size limit, 30-40 pounds, for a flying bird. Its wingspan reaches 9 feet.

(5) Two smaller bustards, the Arabian (A. arabs) and the Indian (A. nigriceps), also exceed 30 pounds.

(6) The Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), found in waters to the south of Madagascar, has the greatest wingspan of any living bird (10-11 feet). An unconfirmed wingspan of 17 feet 6 inches was claimed for one specimen shot off the Cape of Good Hope in the nineteenth century.

(7) The Cape griffon vulture (Gyps coprotheres) of South Africa, with a wingspan over 9 feet, is a Roc candidate.

(8) Eggs of the Ostrich (Struthio camelus), the largest living flightless bird, probably contributed to Roc lore. More than 6 x 5 inches in size, the eggs weigh an average of 3 pounds 10 ounces.

Sources: Buzurg ibn Shahriyar, The Book of the Wonders of India (London: East-West, 1980); "Second Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor," in N. J. Dawood, trans., The Thousand and One Nights: The Hunchback, Sindbad and Other Tales (Baltimore, Md.: Penguin, 1954), pp. 122-123; Ibn Batuta, Travels in Africa and Asia, 1325-1354, trans. H. A. R. Gibb (New York: A. M. Kelley, 1969), pp. 301-302; Marco Polo, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, ed. Henry Yule (London: John Murray, 1929), vol. 2, pp. 412-421, 596-598; Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, ed. Ronald Latham (New York: Penguin, 1958), pp. 300-301; Giovanni Giuseppe Bianconi, Dello Epyornis maximus menzionato da Marco Polo e da fra Mauro (Bologna, Italy: Gamberini e Parmeggiani, 1862); Alfred Newton, A Dictionary of Birds (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1896), pp. 791-793; Joe Nigg, A Guide to the Imaginary Birds of the World (Cambridge, Mass.: Apple-Wood, 1984), pp. 57-59, 148-149; C. E. Bosworth et al., eds., The Encyclopedia of Islam: New Edition (Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1993), vol. 8, p. 595.

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