Many people are familiar with the phrase, as dead as a dodo. The phrase is referencing the dodo and the fact that they are now an extinct species of bird. Sadly, it is becoming more and more common for animal species to become extinct thanks to humans destroying the homes of these animals, or hunting them to extinction. A recent example of this would be the western black rhinoceros, declared extinct in 2011. But what happened to the dodo, did we hunt it to extinction too?
What’s a dodo?
Many of us won’t know what a dodo is because they have been extinct since the 17th century. It was a flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius. The dodo was a large bird, standing approximately one meter tall. Not an awful lot is known about the bird as it was only discovered about 60 years before it was declared extinct. It is understood that they were grey in color and their closest relation is believed to be the pigeon. It is presumed the birds mainly ate fallen fruits and several seeds and nuts, they likely fed on small marine life like shellfish and crabs too. Interestingly, they used gizzard stones to help aid their digestion. Swallowing the rocks helped to grind up any food the birds would have ingested.
The life of a dodo
It appears that many travelers to the island of Mauritius would have feasted on the birds, as they would have been relatively easy to capture. The birds were quite plump and couldn’t fly, so the sailors of the time would have left the island with full stomachs. At least the dodo had a strong beak so it could put up a bit of a fight. The dodo eventually found itself being shipped to Europe; records show that there were paintings of the bird in Emperor Rudolf II’s royal menagerie in Prague. There are many examples of stuffed dodos across Europe, so it is believed they were able to live there, but perhaps the people keeping them didn’t have a good enough understanding about their diets and behaviors.
Here lies the dodo, may it rest in peace
We know the dodo is extinct, but perhaps we don’t know why. The dodo evolved on an island without any natural predators, so it did not fear anything, including humans. They were likely sailor food, as there is evidence of their bones being found in caves where they could not have reached, being flightless birds. Besides being eaten by sailors, the dodo’s habitat was also being destroyed. In 1833 Penny Magazine (an illustrated news outlet aimed at the British working class) used the dodo as the first example of human-induced extinction, sadly it was not the last. Interestingly, although the dodo is believed to have become extinct in the 17th century, it was not declared so until the 19th century. This is because it was a religious belief that extinction was not possible, something which was finally admitted nearly 200 years after they had completely disappeared.
That was a bit of info regarding the dear old dodo, now only to be found in museums and books. Hopefully, this information has shed some light on the plight of the dodo and society has learned its lesson from the bird. There are numerous species declared extinct in the wild nowadays, so, unfortunately, it looks as though several more will be heading the same way as the dodo.