New Zealand fossil giants and present day Aussie pygmies are related according to research reported in BBC News 4 January 2005.
Scientists from Oxford (UK) and Canterbury (NZ) Universities have extracted DNA from an extinct giant eagle, known as Haast’s eagle that once dominated the skies of New Zealand and compared with DNA of living eagles. They expected it would be most closely related to the largest eagle in Australia, the wedge-tailed eagle, but were surprised to find it was most closely related to one of the smallest eagles in the world – a bird appropriately named the little eagle, of Australia and New Guinea.
Michael Bunce, who carried out the research commented, “the DNA results were so radical that, at first, we questioned their authenticity.” He went on to say: “Even more striking was how closely related genetically the two species were. We estimate that their common ancestor lived less than a million years ago. It means that an eagle arrived in New Zealand and increased in weight by 10 to 15 times over this period, which is very fast in evolutionary terms. Such rapid size change is unprecedented in birds and animals.”
Haast’s eagle was so large it was close to the upper weight limit for powered flight. It weighed between 10 and 14 kg (1st 8lb to 2st 3lb), some 30 to 40 percent heavier than the largest living bird of prey, the harpy eagle of South America.
Editorial Comment: Gigantism is only possible when an organism is living in a very user friendly environment (no predators, little competition, good food supply). The Bible and the fossil record indicate the world once had a milder, less erratic climate and would have been much richer in plant and animal life.
One link between gigantism and a lush environment is described in the Bible where the land of Caanan was so productive it was described by God as “flowing with milk and honey”. According to Numbers 13 this land was inhabited by giant people and vines that produced giant clusters of grapes.
There is, of course, one other option for the Haast eagle; the little Australian eagle is descended from a big eagle that has not yet been found in the fossil record.