Roa-roa

The roa-roa is an unknown species of bird, likely a relict species of Anomalopteryx or other smaller moa species thought to have gone extinct due to overhunting by the Māori before the British Empire’s invasion. The first known recorded sighting of a roa-roa, or at least a very similar animal was by Australian ornithologist John Gould in the 1840s. Gould described seeing “giant kiwis”, one metre in height on the South Island. 


One of the only detailed accounts of the roa-roa’s appearance was by Ferdinand von Hochstetter, who interviewed various rangatira (A Māori chief) about the birds of New Zealand in the 1850s. They told von Hochstetter about the roa-roa, and described it as a powerful kiwi-like bird the size of a turkey. They had grey or bluish plumage except below the knees, and large spurs on their feet, which it used to defend itself against predators, mainly dogs. Von Hochstetter was shown some ceremonial cloaks adorned with patches of feathered skin from roa-roas. Confusingly, the contemporary Māori use the word roa-roa to refer to kiwis, which don’t have spurs on their feet. One of the last reports of roa-roas was by the Australian cryptozoologist and author Rex Gilroy, who cast various tracks of what appeared to be small moa-like prints in the Ureweras range in 2008.

Roa-roa illustration by Philippe Coudray