Extinct Animals The Dodo Bird Part 2

About the now extinct animal species the Dodo bird, history, physical description, location and how the species died out.


The Dodo

Soon Dutch settlers were hopping off ships with their dogs, monkeys, and pigs, and several seasick rats also would scurry ashore at each docking. While the colonists were eating the adult birds, the animals they had brought with them were feasting on the eggs and the young. What could the dodo do? With the exception of its beak, the bird was defenseless. When it tried to run, its big belly scraped on the ground, and it was physically impossible for it to climb a tree to nest out of harm's way. The last dodo on Mauritius was eaten in 1681. By that time a dozen of the birds had made their way to Europe, where one of them became a sideshow attraction in London. Naturalist John Tradescant bought it after its death, had it stuffed, and placed it on the shelf next to his other unusual specimens. The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford acquired the bird in 1683, but during spring cleaning in 1755 the museum's board of directors took one look at the dusty, stupid-looking bird and unanimously voted to discard it. Fortunately, the museum's curator had enough foresight to cut off the head and one foot before he tossed the rest of the world's only stuffed dodo in the trash. The old saying "Out of sight, out of mind" was quite apt in this case.

By 1800 scientists were beginning to doubt that the dodo had really existed. Paintings of it looked ridiculous, and only a foot and a head could be offered as proof the bird had lived. What about those eyewitness accounts from the 17th century? Well, if the scientific community gave credence to every gullible traveler returning from the East, they would have to believe in unicorns, dragons, and many other unlikely creatures. What they needed was something irrefutable, like a skeleton or a stuffed specimen. Finally George Clark, a clever native of Mauritius, figured out that the island's volcanic soil was too hard to accommodate fossils; therefore, some of the dodo bones must have been washed by the rain into the muddy delta near the town of Mahebourg. Sure enough, an excavation of the delta in 1863 yielded a quantity of bones which were assembled into complete dodo skeletons and shipped to the world's museums.

The poor dodo still couldn't rest in peace, however; now the taxonomists had to fit it into the right family of birds. Suggestions abounded, and Didus ineptus was no sooner placed in the heron family than it was taken out and put in with the ostriches. A succession of families followed, including the vulture, penguin, snipe, and ibis. When English ornithologist Hugh Strickland declared that the dodo had been a giant dove whose wings had withered away from disuse, his colleagues roared with laughter, but Strickland's theory was proved to be correct. Then the dodo furor died down until 1977, when it came to light that the beautiful calvaria major tree of Mauritius had entrusted the bird with its future and was facing extinction itself as a result of the dodo's demise. The tree's seeds had such thick hulls that they could only sprout after being run through the rigors of the dodo's digestive tract. The calvaria, a long-lived hardwood, had held out for 300 years, but only 13 dying trees remained on the island by 1977. Dr. Stanley Temple, an ornithologist from the University of Wisconsin, came to the trees' rescue with turkeys, whose gastrointestinal systems are capable of wearing down the calvaria seeds so that they can sprout and save the species from the hapless dodo's fate.

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