Researchers from the University of Adelaide in South Australia has recently discovered that New Zealand’s famous kiwi is related to Madagascar’s long extinct elephant bird and not Australia’s emu as previously believed. The scientific study, published in the journal Science, used ancient DNA analyses of elephant bird bones from Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand. Despite the extinct elephant bird’s reported height (between 6.5 to 10 feet) and its weight (600 pounds), analysis of the ages-old DNA disclosed a close genetic link between the kiwi and the elephant bird. The investigative team also discovered that both flightless birds once soared through the air.
Researcher Kieren Mitchell of the University of Adelaide’s ACAD (Australian Centre for Ancient DNA) said the study aided them in solving “a 150-year-old evolutionary mystery” concerning the beginnings of huge “flightless ‘ratite’ birds” such as emus and ostriches presently living “across the southern continents.” Mitchell and company utilized the DNA of the elephant bird to establish that the ratite species evolved away from each other not too long before dinosaurs became extinct approximately 650 million years ago.
Mitchell admitted: “This result was about as unexpected as you could get. New Zealand and Madagascar were only ever distantly physically joined via Antarctica and Australia, so this result shows the ratites must have dispersed around the world by flight.”
Their recent discovery concerning the kiwi corrects past studies from the 1990s that erroneously noted that the kiwi’s closest cousins were the cassowary and emu of Australia. Alan Cooper, ACAD director, had conducted the previous research and was surprisingly happy to note: “It’s great to finally set the record straight, as New Zealanders were shocked and dismayed to find that the national bird appeared to be an Australian immigrant.”
Cooper added: “The evidence suggests flying ratite ancestors dispersed around the world right after the dinosaurs went extinct, before the mammals dramatically increased in size and became the dominant group.”
Kiwi Cousin Of Extinct Elephant Bird