Science & Environment

Laughter in the night

In days of old, the night forests of New Zealand echoed to the screeching "laugh" of an owl twice the size of a morepork, which preyed on any creature smaller than itself. Although the laughing owl has not been positively sighted for 80 years, its relics are yielding insights into our fauna as it was ten millennia or more ago.



Oct - Dec 1996

Charlie Douglas

Pacific festival


Laughing owl

Stephens island




Travels with "Mr Explorer" Douglas

It was a grey evening in late December, the time of family reunions and Christmas extravagance. A lone man sheltered under a makeshift calico tent, deep in the Westland rainforest. His beard was a clump of tussock, his steel-grey eyes wrinlded from a perpetual grin. His only clothes were drying over a smoky campfire, and he sat next to it wrapped in a damp woollen blanket. With a blunt pencil he scribbled in his field book:


Painting the pacific proud

Every four years, the peoples of the Pacific meet for an extravaganza of music, dance, costume and art at the Pacific Festival of Arts. This year's festival, held in Western Samoa, coincided with Papua New Guinea's Independence Day celebrations. Members of the PNG delegation  proudly embodied their young nation in vivid display and dramatic performance.


Island refuge

Poised between heaven and earth, an endangered striped gecko—just one of a suite of species with a precarious grasp on life found mainly on Stephens Island—hunts for its next meal. After a century of retrenchment associated with human occupation, wildlife on this windswept refuge is being coaxed back from the brink by Department of Conservation staff. Tenuous as life has been for the island's animal residents, it has also been far from easy for the handful of humans—mainly lighthouse keepers—who have been caretakers of this isolated outpost.



For most New Zealanders, owls are creatures of children's books and television documentaries. Our native owl, the morepork, is known to us mainly by its call in the night. The only glimpse of a morepork most people are likely to get is of the occasional road kill, or a bird hunting moths around a streetlight at a campground. Handsome, silent creatures of the night, they do not give up their secrets easily.


Subscribe for $1  | 


Keep reading for just $1

$1 trial for two weeks, thereafter $8.50 every two months, cancel any time

Already a subscriber?

Signed in as . Sign out

{{ contentNotIncluded('company') }} has not subscribed to {{ contentNotIncluded('contentType') }}.

Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. Alternatively, use a home network and buy a digital subscription—just $1/week...

Go back


Subscribe to our free newsletter for news and prizes