The eagles that soar through our skies today awe us with their grace and fierce predator skills. They're threatening to the mice and other creatures they hunt, but ... not so much to us. Now, imagine an eagle with a wingspan 10 feet wide and a massive body weighing 30 pounds ... and then throw in an extra-sharp beak and vicious talons. Meet (and fear!) the Haast's eagle, the largest bird of prey in the world, which dominated the skies of New Zealand's South Island.
How and when they disappeared: The demise of the Haast's eagle was relatively recent; these giant birds of prey were still around as late as 1400 A.D. Their doomed fate is bound up with two other animals: the moa (the largest bird the planet has ever seen) and humans. The Haast's eagle was the only animal capable of hunting moa, and devoured them for centuries -- until the arrival of the Maori people in New Zealand shook up the balance. When the Maori hunted the moa to extinction, Haast's eagle soon followed.
What These Mega-Awesome Megafauna Can Teach Us
If there's one thing we can learn from these huge-mongous megafauna, it's that we're only still just coming to understand the impact that we human animals are having on the history of our planet and the magnificent myriad species that we share it with.
Today's remaining megafauna -- elephants, hippos, rhinos, whales, manatees and more -- are also some of the most imperiled species left in our world. Between poaching, habitat loss and climate change, conservationists predict that the world's last large animals could end up going the way of the Diprotodon and the ground sloth in as little as 20 years.
But with a growing understanding of our impact comes a growing sense of our own responsibility, too. Let's appreciate the lost wonders of the world and fight to save the wonders we have today, while we still can.