Modern Dinosaurs: Nature docos are good, but NZ nature docos are better

by Fiona Rae / 16 March, 2019
Modern Dinosaurs, Sunday.

Modern Dinosaurs, Sunday.

RelatedArticlesModule - Modern dinosaurs tv nature

New Zealand’s unique and unusual native species are measured against their cousins from across the Ditch.

Nature documentaries are good; New Zealand nature documentaries are even better. So, although Modern Dinosaurs (Prime, Sunday, 7.30pm) is a bit like something you’d see on a plane, it’s still full of lovely local landscapes and our delightfully unique fauna.

Well, largely. By way of comparison, the series crosses the Tasman to look at some of our native animals’ distant relatives. In episode one, that’s the saltwater crocodile, which is related to the tuatara and also survived when a meteor destroyed 70% of life on Earth 65 million years ago.

As the two animals are very different, the question is, how did they both survive? The tuatara is an amazing creature, the last of the order of reptiles known as Rhynchocephalia. It has no external ears, a third eye and teeth that grow directly from its jaw. It can slow its metabolism when food is scarce, and, like a lizard, can lose part of its tail.

The saltwater crocodile is amazing in other ways, a scarily dangerous apex predator that hasn’t changed since it lived alongside the dinosaurs. It can reach 6m long and weigh as much as a car. A creature less like its self-effacing cousin is difficult to imagine.

The series, which first screened on Sky’s Discovery channel as New Zealand: Evolution Islands, features a number of excited DoC rangers and geologists. In this first episode, rangers are checking on their breeding programme on Little Barrier Island. They visit their “tuatarium” and carefully remove eggs from a burrow so that they may be safely incubated and hatched. They also return small tuataras, setting them up in desirable homes where they will hopefully attract mates.

All this intensive work has brought the tuatara back from the brink of extinction. The breeding programme began in the 1990s, when Little Barrier’s population was just eight adults, and the island is still the only place that tuataras exist in the wild.

The subjects of the other episodes are not difficult to guess: the kiwi, which includes a visit to the rarest of all, the rowi kiwi of the Ōkārito  wetlands. Aussie relative: the cassowary. Naturally, there’s a visit to the kākāpō, the world’s strangest parrot, and then back to Little Barrier to look at giant insects such as wētās, centipedes and carnivorous snails. This “island gigantism” is mirrored in Australia’s marsupial megafauna.

Finally, the sevengill sharks of Milford Sound, the whales of Kaikoura and the giant sawfish of northern Australia.

This article was first published in the March 16, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgotten Nasa legend
108468 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z History

50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgo…

by Peter Griffin

Today marks 50 years since humans landed on the Moon, a feat achieved thanks to Kiwi scientist William Pickering and his team.

Read more
The best thing to come from the Black Caps' defeat
108621 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Sport

The best thing to come from the Black Caps' defeat…

by Paul Thomas

For New Zealanders, the Cricket World Cup final was a brutal reminder of sport’s great paradox. But there's hope on the horizon.

Read more
What New Zealand can do about the militarisation of space
108498 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Tech

What New Zealand can do about the militarisation o…

by Duncan Steel

We may decry the notion, but the hostile use of space is creeping into the plans of various countries.

Read more
Five technologies from the space race that we take for granted
108506 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Tech

Five technologies from the space race that we take…

by Peter Griffin

If US$154 billion to land 12 men on the Moon seems excessive, consider the things we use every day that had their roots in a Nasa lab.

Read more
Top investigator urges police to speak up about wrongful convictions
108539 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Crime

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wr…

by Mike White

Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations in talks with Scott Morrison
108570 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations…

by Craig McCulloch

PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.

Read more
How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their identity
108572 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their…

by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.

Read more
The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh removal
108377 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh remova…

by Ruth Nichol

Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.

Read more