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Chapter XXXIII. — Acclimatisation Centres and Migration Routes

page 321

Chapter XXXIII.
Acclimatisation Centres and Migration Routes.

Many factors—sport, sentiment, and business—entered into the jubilation with which the project of acclimatisation was acclaimed in New Zealand. It was the age of enthusiasm: the possibilities of small settlement were then undreamed; the land was still parcelled out in great estates, whose owners, I daresay, thought of founding families, of game preservation as at home, of fox-hunting,—it is a marvel that New Zealand has escaped the importation of the fox,—of all the jolly old-time country life that for good and evil is passing away from the world. The protests of those in England whose comparative knowledge and experience could properly appreciate the dangers ahead were unheeded. If heard at all, they were passed over as the remonstrances of persons without practical knowledge of conditions obtaining in the Antipodes.

Yet, if not a failure, acclimatisation in New Zealand has not at any rate been an outstanding success.

In justice to its founders and supporters, however, it must be conceded that failure has in some degree been consequent on an alteration in the social fabric which could hardly have been foreseen. Game preservation is an abomination to a democracy each of whom is a freeholder, and each of whom, not unnaturally, desires to shoot his own game—equally naturally to shoot it without delay lest it cross into his neighbour's territory. Each bird, in fact, is treated as were those coveys of grouse found in pre-driving days too near the marches of a moor—slain to save them.

Then, too, another outcome of close settlement—a multiplicity of eats and dogs—spells death to game. It is probable that deer-stalking is in the not far-distant future also doomed. The finest heads—park page 322 type—have hitherto been obtained from lands that cannot be, or cannot much longer be, held in large areas. Elsewhere, into tracts of poor high country where indeed deer might subsist without detriment to the State, the rabbit has of late penetrated, and with him the rabbiter. These men know the countryside as they know their huts. They possess in full the sporting tastes of their fellow-mortals. I am given to understand that the best heads disappear before the season opens, or instantly afterwards. Rangers are few and far between, and fines for poaching inadequate even were evidence forthcoming. It is true there are areas still free of rabbits; but it is to be feared that, sooner or later, these regions too will be overrun, that once more in the wake of the rabbit the rabbiter will follow, that in any case the deer will be eaten out, that the best trophies and the glorious loneliness of stalking will be gone.

There can be no two opinions as to the importation of vermin such as stoats, weasels, polecats, and ferrets. Only the value of the avifauna brought to New Zealand for sentimental and utilitarian reasons needs to be considered.

On this topic much can be said for and against acclimatisation. It is true that some of the birds are already troublesome, and it is likely that others may become so. It must nevertheless not be forgotten that good has been done as well as evil; that if, for example, the sparrow takes a proportion of the farmer's ripened grain, it is but a fraction of what was robbed from the pioneer by plagues of caterpillar, grasshopper, and black crickets. Only those who are aware of the enormous depredations of insects in the early days of New Zealand agriculture can properly adjust the balance.

The importation of the Salmo tribe seems, although little or nothing is known of their habits in the sea, to have been a genuine success.1

page 322a
Acclimatisation Centres North and South of Tutira.

Acclimatisation Centres North and South of Tutira.

page 323

Proceeding from this disquisition on New Zealand's acclimatisation in general to our immediate subject, the accompanying map shows the four centres from which animal aliens have reached the run. They are Wairarapa and Hastings to the south, Auckland and Wairoa to the north.

For observation of aliens passing north and south, Tutira has occupied an exceptionally fortunate geological situation. Between Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay stretches a broad belt of fertile land running roughly parallel with the coast. This band of limestone and marl country begins, however, to narrow immediately south of the station into a sort of tongue or peninsula. Tutira, in fact, may be considered the terminal portion of a fertile belt that stretches the whole distance from Wairarapa.

To this belt migrants have clung, repelled by the poorer soils and grassless lands impinging on it from the west. They have, moreover, closed their ranks as the band of good land shrunk in width, and have therefore not only passed through Tutira, but have passed through it in relatively large numbers. Aliens, therefore, moving northwards had perforce to pass through the run. Animals, again, moving southwards, and coming during the last portion of their trek by way of the fertile Waiapu and Poverty Bay districts, have followed likewise the coastal route. For precisely similar reasons to those which, immediately south of Tutira, compelled the concentration of northward - moving migrants, about Wairoa has occurred another contraction. Westwards of that district extend large areas of dry hungry lands over which no creature accustomed to such fertility as that of Poverty Bay would be likely to straggle. All southward-moving migrants, too, have passed through Tutira, and, because of their concentration, have passed through it in relatively large numbers. The run, therefore, may be said to have stood in the centre of a double current of aliens—some moving south, some moving north; it has been the waist of the sand-glass, through which each grain was bound to flow.

Before proceeding to relate the history of the different living creatures that have managed to reach Tutira in my day, it will be page 324 well to give a general account of the routes by which these uninvited guests have invaded the run.

The movements of masses of living things may or may not be blind and involuntary. In any case, it is certain that some roads of expansion are favoured over others, and that, in the selection of these, birds and animals follow, like man, the law of the line of least resistance. That line may, in the North Island of New Zealand, be generalised as the line of light.

There are three natural highways by which imported animals have chiefly travelled from centres of acclimatisation north and south of the run. Each of them is a line of light fringing or piercing the dense vegetation of a fertile, warm, well-watered land. They are the coastal route, the hill-top route, the river-bed route.

During their journeyings to the run from different centres of
Line of light—coast—showing native clearings.

Line of light—coast—showing native clearings.

liberation, many of the migrants—especially the bird migrants—have at different periods, passing through different districts, used all of these ways. The coastal route on the whole has been most helpful; upon it certainly the final laps of many species have been accomplished. It has, in the first place, offered superior attractions to any other line of ingress in the matter of warmth. By following the coast-line, which in New Zealand happens, generally speaking, to be also the line of human settlement, Maori or European, migrants have not only procured food more easily, but have, through man's tillage of the ground, found food of a suitable sort. It must be always remembered that the alien vegetation of New Zealand was well established on pioneer plots before the majority of the alien animals and birds had arrived; that there were procurable the seeds and tender leaves of imported garden plants, grasses, and weeds. page 325 Furthermore, it must be taken into account that there existed along the route insects, grubs, and blights also of European origin.

It is possible there may have been another inducement to follow the coastal route; there may have been an instinctive attraction to the sea, that great plain over which the old-world ancestors of imported species for generations have ventured.

The second of these animal highways was the hill-top route. Wide belts of impenetrable forest covered the slopes—forests still standing as late as the 'eighties. They extended from ocean almost to mountain-top, heaviest timber growing along the coast zone, trees lower in height roped in tangles of “lawyer,” vine, and supple-jack on the foothills and lower slopes. There was another reason why migrants were forced on to the tops. It was the only route by which the river gorges that furrow the flanks of the main ranges could be avoided, gorges always difficult
Line of light—mountain-top route through forest.

Line of light—mountain-top route through forest.

of access and often impassable. The line of summit was the line of comparative light and comparatively open ground. Although there existed nothing approaching a continuity of bare ground, although the line of light was broken and checkered, there were here and there at least reaches of uncovered summit, rockfalls of jumbled stone, windblows where gales had swept off the top soil, lucid intervals of turf. These spots and stretches upon which, at any rate, the sun could shine and where migrants could touch ground unshaded by foliage, were as stepping-stones encouraging advance across a river ford. Compared with the gloom and tanglement of the damp forests, they must have been oases pleasant to reach. They offered freedom and light as against unknown possibilities of danger and darkness.
The third line of migratory movement was the river-bed route. Particularly alluring has this route proved to migrants where a confused page 326 jumble of valley, slope, and summit devoid of any open connection with one another, and covered alike with dense tangled greenery, offered no place of alightment, no city of refuge, no perch for the sole of the foot, no bare ground whatsoever. This route was to birds the primrose path, the line of sun and warmth, of water in hot summer-time, of open ground, of minute alluvial plains, of grass and grit and dry clean sand. It is a line which, although less used than the hill-top or coastal routes, has nevertheless been of considerable aid to several migrants during stages of their wanderings. Some of the species which have reached Tutira from the north have thus passed through forest and fern lands otherwise impenetrable; they have been guided through the wilderness by sunlight on bare ground. Whereas, moreover, the river system to the south was a bar, northwards it was in some sort a key to Tutira. Southwards the river-beds ran athwart the line of migration; northwards
Line of light—river-bed through forest.

Line of light—river-bed through forest.

several of them served under certain conditions as short cuts to the station.

There is one other migration route which, albeit artificial, has also been largely utilised. It is the highway which man, proud man, believes built by himself for himself only. No belief could be more erroneous; slightly paraphrasing the proverb, it can truly be said that man builds roads and wise animals use them.

The highway of man is after all but a track better graded and more evenly trodden than that of the sheep, the penguin, the kiwi, the petrel, or the pig. Roads are, to animals as to men, lines of easiest access. In the Old World all lines of migratory movement had been established long prior to road construction; in New Zealand the peculiar conditions of importation and subsequent spread have lent to them a novel function. There is a mass of evidence in support of the view that they have been largely used by travelling animals and birds. The obvious demurrer to page 327 the connection of observed animals and roadways—that it is because the observer is more on the road than off it—will not hold good at Tutira. Life on a rough run is spent not on but off the road; for every ten miles ridden by the author on roads, a hundred has been ridden in the wilds. If, therefore, migrants have been relatively more often and at earlier dates seen about highways than elsewhere, it is because they have been followed at first as lines of least resistance and clung to afterwards as guides to further goals.

Their importance, indeed, as a factor in the spread of aliens can hardly be estimated, except by realisation of what is called the inert mentality of animals, but which might, perhaps, be better termed their prudent conservation of energy. It is a truism that sheep in a field will avoid obstacles as man himself does; thistle-groves, clumps of fern, logs, soft ground, will all cause deviation; in fact, as I have said before, a straight sheep-track is no more discoverable than a straight path between village and village. Advantage is taken of the smallest saving of toil, even such as that entailed by the stepping over a fern frond fallen out from a clump, or the avoidance of a prone spar a few inches high. One particular instance out of thousands occurs to me: On certain low hills on Tutira a foot-wide track had been roughly slashed through low fern. Such a track it is comprehensible sheep in “working” a paddock might discover and prefer, but that a year later, when fire had run over the whole area, they should rediscover a line by that time indecipherable to human vision, shows how the smallest saving of exertion is appreciated.

If advantages in ease of progression of so infinitesimal a kind are thus taken into account, it is not difficult to understand the allurements of a road,—an entrancing surface free of logs, free of tangled grass, free of hummocks,—an open way allowing full vent to that mental sloth which is the lower creatures' bliss. From four centres of liberation and by four lines of ingress—the coastal route, the hill-top route, the river-bed route, and the highway of man—has the modern alien invasion of Tutira been accomplished.

1 Compared with results obtainable elsewhere in New Zealand, rod-fishing in Hawke's Bay is not first-rate, the great floods that now and again pass over the province destroying the ova and drowning the trout. This deprivation from an angler's point of view may, however, be perhaps remedied. There are indications that trout are coasting the shores and already in a small way running up the rivers. In the Waikoau, for instance, fish which are practically sea trout in their silvery appearance and red flesh have been taken five miles inland. These fish are quite dissimilar to the river fish, good as is their condition also. The little Moeangiangi stream reaching the sea two or three miles north of the Waikoau may also be cited. It has never been stocked, yet up it trout from the Pacific are running, trout of three and four pounds' weight. Possibly in the Waikoau it might have been thought that river trout washed out in floods had taken to the salt water and later returned to spawn. In the Moeangiangi that is not possible; there beyond controversy trout have entered virgin water direct from the ocean. The earliest trout liberated in Hawke's Bay (S. fontinalis) were brought from America in great baths on board one of the paddle steamers that used to ply between the two countries.