Maori “great conservationists”? Why this unscientific nonsense?

Maori “great conservationists”?  Why is this distorting nonsense being peddled? Maori, after all, blithely burnt whole forests and wiped out numbers of species. Who profits from this constantly trumpeted,  quite wrong claim?

For example: “Within a couple of hundred years of settling in NZ, Maori had wiped out more than forty native species, including every one of the nine species of moa.

<a href=”https://teara.govt.nz/en/human-effects-on-the-environment“>https://teara.govt.nz/en/human-effects-on-the-environment</a>

Isolated for millions of years, New Zealand’s plants and animals were very vulnerable to the impact of humans. When the ancestors of Māori arrived around 1250–1300 AD, bringing rats and dogs, they started a wave of extinctions that continues today.

<a href=”https://envirohistorynz.com/2009/12/15/impacts-of-the-maori-on-the-environment/“>https://envirohistorynz.com/2009/12/15/impacts-of-the-maori-on-the-environment/</a>

Maori also had a significant impact on the archipelago’s fauna: nearly forty species of birds, a bat, three to five species of frogs and numerous lizard taxa became extinct during the pre-European Maori era. Factors leading to the extinction of these species were direct hunting, predation by or competition with introduced dogs and rats, human disturbance of nesting sites, and habitat destruction (mainly through burning).

<a href=”https://newzealandecology.org/nzje/1866.pdf“>https://newzealandecology.org/nzje/1866.pdf</a>

Summary: Polynesian settlement of New Zealand (c. 1000 yr B.P.) led directly to the extinction or reduction of much of the vertebrate fauna, destruction of half of the lowland and montane forests, and widespread soil erosion.

<a href=”http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/03/why-did-new-zealands-moas-go-extinct“>http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/03/why-did-new-zealands-moas-go-extinct</a>

For millions of years, nine species of large, flightless birds known as moas (Dinornithiformes) thrived in New Zealand. Then, about 600 years ago, they abruptly went extinct. Their die-off coincided with the arrival of the first humans on the islands in the late 13th century….he is not surprised that the Polynesian settlers killed off the moas; any other group of humans would have done the same, he suspects. “We like to think of indigenous people as living in harmony with nature,” he says. “But this is rarely the case. ”

All the PR about New Zealand being an attractive destination for scientists needs closer scrutiny. So does the now highly questionable priority being laid upon todays’ scientists by only too compliant management both in private and in government institutions intrusively over-seeing research areas to ensure that the interests of now wealthy iwi come first.

It is not a feather in our cap that scientists now cannot today be left to do what they are most fitted for, undertaking pure research, thoroughly and methodically, without  a continuing, unrealistic pressure to at the same time swiftly find business or iwi funding to enable them to continue.

The politicisation of all our institutions  these recent decades has meant that New Zealand scientists are now hamstrung by the ideology of what was basically the New Zealand Business Roundtable’s 1990s  theorising that both the science and arts should be regarded as commodities – together with the efforts of this well-funded organisation to remove tenure from university staff.

Because of this, as the University of Canterbury’s School of Physical & Chemical scientists’ highly respected Dr Andy Pratt has pointed out, economic outcomes, and the pressure to swiftly achieve politicised results has ensured that “quality issues go down the tubes”. In an important,  previously published article, Dr Pratt points out that “an obsession with the cost of everything and the value of nothing vandalises society and undermines its values… Governments want to know what science’s discovery of the week will be, while in order to get funding, scientists must claim that they are going to cure cancer, or build a supercomputer.”

Added to this attack on pure science comes the virtual blackmailing now of our institutions where research funding depends upon local wealthy Maori corporations’ approval of such research – even when these neo-tribal organisations have absolutely no expertise in the areas into which they have intruded.

Would overseas scientists willingly come here, if they knew the political and economic hoops they today have to jump through in this country – to have a chance of retaining their jobs? There’s increasing doubt about this.

Charles Eason, the chief executive of Nelson’s Cawthron Institute, touted as  the country’s largest independent science organization, quite openly states that “The Cawthron aims to support the country’s economy through science while preserving the natural environment — in which New Zealand’s powerful indigenous Maori traditions  are deeply rooted. “Our Maori culture plays through our psyche,” Eason says. “Maori culture is very strong in terms of environmental protection.”

Assertions here need to be questioned.

  • Why has this highly politicised sea-change of the aim “to support the country’s economy “now become the stated responsibility of science – i.e. in real terms, of scientists?
  • Why is the factually wrong and scientifically unsupported claim that “Maori culture is very strong in terms of environmental protection” being peddled? Is it basically an excuse for the pressure now being placed by opportunistic iwi on what should be strongly independent organisations committed to genuine research? Have they in fact capitulated to priotising iwi interests?

Great scientists, as Andy Pratt reminds us, are kept young by an almost childlike curiosity about the world. What, however, is the inevitable result, when management makes this impossible by insisting on quick results, geared to serve business or moneyed interests?

His faith that the pendulum will have to swing back may be heartening – but not to the growing number of highly qualified scientists carrying the additional  burden of student loans, undertaken to enable them to achieve the highest possible qualifications  – but now having to drive taxis  – as the doors of learning and sharing are closed to them.

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© Amy Brooke, Convenor, The 100 Days.  See my book “100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand …what has gone wrong, and how we can control our politicians.” Available through my  BOOK Page at www.amybrooke.co.nz, or at Amazon’s Kindle.