As Dead as a Dodo
When visiting the beautiful island of Mauritius you will notice the reoccurring images and souvenirs with a strange-looking bird, the fantastical dodo bird. The dodo is synonymous with Mauritius as it is the only place in the world where it existed naturally. Initially it was believed to be a mythical creature like a unicorn or griffin, but in the early 19th century it was considered to be a real creature and is now the island’s national animal. Sadly though, the dodo became extinct by the end of the 17th century – over a short period of about 75 years – and is now a well-known icon of extinction.
Although we don’t know exactly what it looked like, a few fossil bones have been found for us to reimagine it. From these limited fragments, a few sketches and traveller writings, we think this bird was quite large and stood up to one metre tall, weighing in at approximately 20kg. It has been described as brownish/grey with yellow feet, a grey naked head and a black, yellow and green beak. Dodos inhabited the Island of Mauritius for millions of years isolated from humans and natural predators. It is said that the bird was bulky and slow, with short wings that prevented it from flying – so not the Usain Bolt of the animal kingdom. According to the Encarta Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, “dodo” derives from Portuguese doudo (currently doido) meaning “fool” or “crazy.” What an unfortunate name!
…and in a flash, it was gone
So what exactly happened to this fearless & flightless creature? The small island of Mauritius remained uninhabited by man for thousands of years, possibly because the island is in the middle of the large Indian Ocean and was not on any major sea route. The dodo’s habitat was destroyed when humans arrived and due to its short wings and bulky body, the dodo could not fly or flee in the face of danger and became easy prey. Besides human consumption, other predators that came along with humans like rats & monkeys also preyed on this bird and its eggs and ultimately contributed to its demise. Of course it didn’t help matters that the dodo only laid one egg at a time.
If you want to see the legendary dodo as close to its natural habitat as possible, then be sure to visit Port Louis’ fascinating Natural History Museum. Alternatively, you can explore the lush gardens and endless beaches in Mauritius and imagine these interesting creatures awkwardly wandering around.
Fun fact… the Mauritian flying fox is the last remaining endemic mammal on the island… It’s actually more of a bat than a fox but not in a vampire sort of way!
We love that Mauritius honours the dodo as this was its home for centuries and it was entirely content to stay and not emigrate anywhere else. Maybe one day scientists may find a complete DNA sequence that leads to producing a live dodo (Jurassic Park comes to mind), but for now, it’s a very valuable lesson in extinction.