THESE ISLANDS HAVE EXISTED IN SPLENDID OCEAN ISOLATION FOR MORE THAN 80 MILLION YEARS
That’s a long time for the plants and animals on board to evolve, making New Zealand an Ark to animals, plants and habitats found nowhere else on Earth.
In particular, New Zealand evolved into a land of ancient forests and birds. Some of those birds have taken on the role filled by mammals in most other parts of the world — moa were our deer, kiwi became our badgers, weka fossick like pigs, kōkako still run through forest branches like squirrels do in England. For the last several million years, our only land-based mammals have been tiny bats, one of which forages mouse-like on the ground.
New Zealand is also one of the last places on Earth to be peopled, a mere 1000 years of human settlement. But our impact in that short time has been huge. We brought with us animals, which killed and destroyed native species, along with thousands of introduced plants now established as serious environmental weeds. Forests have been burnt and cleared for farms, wetlands drained and estuaries filled in.
Today New Zealand boasts the disastrous tally of more than 2700 threatened species — one of the highest rates on Earth — and there are more than 3000 we know too little about to know whether they are also in trouble. Many species no longer survive on the mainland, and are found only on predator-free islands.