History of the Now Extinct Dodo Bird

About the history of the Dodo bird found on the island of Maurititus, the now extinct species described.

Feathered Monsters. When explorers of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries embarked on voyages for new lands and continents, they often found wild animals and birds which were unknown in their own homeland. When Portuguese sailors landed on the island of Mauritius in 1507, they found one of the strangest beasts of all--the dodo--which "looked as if it had been designed by a prankster playing a joke on naturalists."

The dodo, which weighed about 50 lbs., had a somewhat round-shaped body perched upon short, yellow legs. "Its wings were small; they would not begin to lift that great weight from the ground. Its tiny tail was a curled plume, standing up like a little feather duster. The bird's head was dominated by its bill, 9" long, thick, and hooked on the end. Unlike the crow or jay, this bird seemed slow-witted, not very bright at all. This shortcoming was hidden behind a comical look on its face."

The poor dodo stumbled clumsily when it moved through the forest, with its undercarriage dragging on the ground. He was easy to capture, and since he weighed 3 times as much as a turkey, it was thought that he'd provide a bit of fresh meat for hungry sailors. But the bird was difficult to chew; the longer it simmered in the boiling pot, the tougher it became.

Since the dodo was too heavy to propel himself into flight, his wings were used primarily for fighting. "As they rushed upon each other, the pounding of their wings against the flesh of their neighbors resounded through the forest like claps of thunder."

In 1599, when Comdr. Jacob Van Neck landed on Mauritius, he decided to bring a dodo back to Europe with him. "The ponderous bird, fat and unbelievable, soon became a favorite wherever it was displayed."

But when Mauritius, located near Madagascar, was colonized by Holland in 1644, the dodo's fate was sealed. With the colonist came "hogs, dogs, cats, and people, all of which would consume dodos and their young or eggs.... [the dodo] is believed to have become extinct about 1681...."

Once the dumb and ugly dodo was gone, there was little evidence that it had ever existed at all. A few European artists had painted pictures of it, but there was only one stuffed dodo which ended up in a museum in Oxford, England.

"There, when the staff was cleaning up the place one day, someone noticed the old stuffed dodo. What a ratty-looking specimen it was! The feathers were broken, rough, and out of place. Its general run-down appearance was enough to make a tidy museum staff feel shame and chagrin."

The museum director, after examining the tired specimen, ordered his staff, "Take the bird out and dispose of it." The last known dodo was burned to ashes, but somehow its head and one leg were saved before it was fed to the flames.

In 1865, in a muddy swamp on Mauritius, a collection of preserved dodo bones was uncovered. "From these spare parts museum workers assembled skeletons of the bird. These became the foundations for restorations, or man-made dodos. Today, you may see in a museum what appears to be a preserved dodo, but it will be only the work of a clever taxidermist who has assembled a counterfeit model of one of the most remarkable big birds that the world ever knew."

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