I Heart Indies

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Consider the Dodo

My version of the Dodo.
My guess is as good as anyone's.
Ah, the Dodo.  The poster child for extinction.

A large flightless bird of the Mauritius island, the dodo lived happily without ever having encountered humans in any significant numbers.  That was its whole problem.  Sailors in the 1600's, the Golden Age of Exploration, were charmed by these large flightless friendly birds.  An early document records, "...their food was fruit, they were not well-feathered but abundantly covered with fat, a few were brought onboard to the delight of us all."  Evidently they tasted a lot like chicken.  (They were also called "Red Hens" and "Red Rails.")  The birds were so tame-acting Dutch sailors named them "doudos," which means "fool" or "simpleton." This is like naming an animal "Sucker!"  Humans have a natural and understandable contempt for any animal that would trust them.

The dodos began disappearing pretty darn rapidly and excitement grew that mankind was on the brink of causing its first major extinction in recorded history.  Concerned naturalists from as far away as China began sending requests, "Quick before the last dodo is gone, we must do something!  Kill us one and send it home so we can put it in a museum."  Ecologically-minded sailors thoughtfully began putting dodos aboard ship to take home to their native countries.  Some of these dodos may have been alive when they left Mauritius, but it's doubtful any of them were when they reached their destination.

Drawings were made, but not very good ones, so it's somewhat hard to tell, even today, exactly what dodos looked like. If you think you know what a dodo looks like it's probably because you saw John Tenniel's drawing of one in Alice in Wonderland, which seems to be a caricature of the author, Lewis Carroll, since the dodo in the book has a cane and white gloves, and real dodos are not believed to have worn these.  The only stuffed remains of a dodo remaining are a dried head and foot in the Oxford Museum: a head and one foot.  They are not in good shape.  Nothing else remains.

Say what you will about humans, when we set out to do something, we don't do it by half-measures.  We not only drove the dodo to extinction, we did it so thoroughly we don't even have a taxidermied specimen or a reliable drawing to look at.


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