Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

A Battle of Nature, Pekapeka • Bat


  • Medium: tōtara, granite base
  • Size: 17.5 × 5.5 × 5.5 inches (incl. base)
  • Reference Code: KC140602

The Pekapeka is New Zealand’s only native land mammal. There are two species of Pekapeka which are the Long Tailed and Lesser Short Tailed Bat. Both species are tiny creatures that feed at dusk and at night and therefore Māori believe that they are messengers and associate them with the Hokioi or Giant Night Flying Eagle who was a foreteller of death and disaster. The Pekapeka has existed for millions of years and consequently evokes this primeval notion. However in recent times land clearance, fire, native logging and the introduction of predators has drastically reduced their numbers to the point that they are now considered endangered.

On the contrary when I lived in Queensland, Australia, I experienced the huge numbers of one of Australia’s bat species named the Flying Fox. There are literally thousands of these unsightly looking creatures that would cloud the skies at dusk like invaders swarming the city. To first witness this was kind of eerie but fascinating and intriguing at the same time. Then to see them up close and personal was also an eye opener as flocks of them would land in a big old Moreton Bay fig tree beside our house when it was in fruit. To me they are certainly one of the more unattractive creatures in appearance and also by the screeching sounds they make while jostling with each other high up in the branches at night. These bats also carried the deadly Lyssavirus which only enhanced their notorious reputation of being associated with deathly horrors and myth.

The idea behind this work was to describe the total contrast between these two members of the bat family and how one could be represented in great proportions while the other is verging on extinction. The form of this piece echoes that of the Flying Fox hanging upside down and encased in its skeletal like wings. Its head and body are adorned with Māori motif to represent our own very small but very significant native Pekapeka. An important piece of the puzzle in ancient Māori lore is that it is now fighting against the pressures of a modern era. So it is critical now more than ever that we preserve, protect and nurture them to ensure their survival for the future.

—Todd Couper

Todd Couper

Todd Couper


Ngāti Kahungunu

(1974- )

Todd attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay from 1987 to 1991 and quickly excelled in art. In 1995, he completed the Diploma of Art, Craft and Māori Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua; he majored in woodcarving/sculpture and graduated with honours. It was during this time that he met Roi Toia, who was teaching there. Roi, impressed with his talent, invited Todd to apprentice with him. They continue to work together, but Todd has forged his own style and direction in carving, with commissioned pieces residing in collections in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. He participated in Kiwa: Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada.