Spanning over an area of 12,000 kms it is not unlikely that Fiordland plays host to some pretty elusive species. We’ve all heard of the moose sightings reported in the deep south, but what of the lesser known stories of the web-footed mammalian mystery known as the waitoreke?
Much like the legend of Fiordland’s wild moose, the quest to prove the existence of the Fiordland waitoreke attracts reported sightings, photos of unexplained tracks in the mud and even the submission of physical evidence, such as a pelt submitted in 1868 that was so damaged it could not be verified.
But is there any truth to the claims of its existence?
What is the waitoreke?
In Kiwi folklore, the waitoreke ( waitorete or waitoreki) has been described as an otter or beaver type of creature that reportedly lives undisturbed in the deep south of the South Island. While there are varied theories on the true identity of the creature, such as it being a pinniped (like a seal) or a beaver, the most common descriptions are of that of a 2 foot long otter.
What’s in a name?
The name of the creature holds almost as much mystery as the animal itself, with no documented origin leading many sceptics to believe that not only the animal but the name are simply inventions of someone’s vivid imagination.
The word waitoreke in its various spellings does not occur anywhere in the Māori dictionary and when challenged by anthropologist Te Rangi Hīroa, it was said to use Te Reo grammar structures incorrectly.
There have been sporadic reports of the waitoreke across the South Island throughout more than 200 years. The first, recorded by colonial founder Captain James Cook who wrote that in 1773 he encountered a four-footed mammal on a beach in Dusky Sound. In 1954, a local paua fisherman claimed an otter swam beneath his glass-bottomed boat at the same beach.
What adds further intrigue to the mystery of the waitoreke is the fact that all reported sightings are remarkably similar to each other sparking mystery hunters to keep heading south in the hope of snapping a photograph.
Similar reports continue until this day yet no verified photographs exist.
Importance of the existence of the waitoreke
A paper published by Gunter G. Sehm of Victoria University proposed the likelihood of a marsupial similar to that of the Australian platypus existing in southern New Zealand, but what is the significance of its existence.
Well, after New Zealand split from gondwanaland, the large landmass that once joined all continents on Earth, it somehow ended up with a huge variety of flightless birds ranging from the tiniest of passerines all the way up to the now-extinct Moa. On any continent where mammals exist, this would be impossible, as small and defenseless flightless birds wouldn’t survive their predators. For this reason, New Zealand is famous for its complete lack of native mammals (though we do play host to seals, sea lions and two bat species).
The discovery of a native mammal in New Zealand could lead to whole new study of New Zealand biology and botany.
What do you think?
Much like any unsolved mystery, the continuity of the search lies in the hands of the believers. However, between the Fiordland Moose, sightings of the extinct New Zealand Moa and the waitoreke, there are plenty of reasons to keep your eyes wide open when you visit Milford Sound.
Do you believe in the existence of the waitoreke? Why not head south to find one yourself? Have you seen one or know someone who has? Tell us about your experience.