A south island moa reconstruction (Paul Martinson)
Paddy Freaney's photo allegedly of a moa
Moas were a genus of enormous herbivorous birds inhabiting New Zealand. Some species could reach up to 14 ft tall and more than 600 pounds. Their body shape was similar to ostriches and emus but had much stockier legs. Their feathers were grey or red, and coarse, like kiwis, and from afar seem indistinguishable from fur or hair. Moas had large beaks they used to eat tubers, roots, and leaves. They had no predators besides Haast’s eagles and humans.
Despite reports of moas continuing into the modern day, they are thought to of went extinct somewhere between the 14th and 17th centuries, probably by overhunting by the Māori. About 80% of New Zealand’s land has no inhabitants in a one-kilometre area, and another large bird that was considered extinct in New Zealand, the turkey-sized takahē, was rediscovered in 1948, so it's not impossible for a large bird to remain undetected. Almost every contemporary moa sighting seems to resemble the heavy-footed moa (Pachyornis elephantopus). Most sightings of moas post-contact are by hunters and trappers, and often only encounter their tracks or droppings.
In the mid 19th century, British trader Joel Polack was told by Māori tribesmen that moas still existed in remote regions of South Island. In the 1850s, an unnamed seal hunter found a heavily decomposed moa carcass, with flesh still attached, at Molyneux Harbour. In 1861, a group of surveyors found massive bird tracks presumably made by a moa between Riwaka and Takaka in South Island. In 1868, a group of Māoris claimed to have seen seven moas at Preservation Inlet on South Island and even killed one, although, by the time naturalists arrived, the specimen was missing. In the 1880s, politician Alice Mckenzie saw a moa tanning itself on a beach off the Landsborough River.
In 1963, an unnamed scientist claimed to have seen a moa in the North-West Nelson State Forest Park. In 1991, a man named Jim Stratton watched as an extremely large, dark-feathered emu or ostrich-like bird, walk out in front of him and crossed a trail. Stranton claimed the bird stood around 11 ft tall. The only photo allegedly of a moa was taken by a man named Paddy Freaney when he was hiking in the isolated Cragieburn range in South Island in 1993. Although the photo is extremely blurry because of it being so far away, he did describe the animal in great detail. It was also sent to computer analyses by Canterbury University specialists and is actually showing a large bird and wasn’t edited.
In early September of 2001, Australian cryptozoologist Rex Gilroy found 24 cm long bird tracks in Urewera National Forest. On April 21st, 2017 the YouTube channel "An 1988" posted their only video, of what they claim to be a moa they encountered in the Northland bush on April 15th, 2017. Although the video seems to actually show a massive, flightless bird in New Zealand, it's unfortunately short and has an unexplained cut six seconds in, proving the video has at least been edited.