The Dodo Bird, Raphus cucullatus, lived on the islands of Mauritius, New Zealand and Micronesia and is thought to have gone extinct in the late 17th century due to human activity. Through documentation and artist renditions of the creature we know that the Dodo Bird was approximately 3 feet tall, had grayish plumage, a nine inch bill with a hooked point, stout yellow legs and a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear end.
The Dodo evolved to take advantage of an island ecosystem with no natural predators and as a result its sternum became insufficient to support flight, its wings also because smaller with lack of use. It ate mostly berries and other forms of ground level vegetation and also built its nests on the ground, something that would later prove costly to the success of the Dodo Bird.
The traditional image of the Dodo is that of a fat, clumsy bird, but this view has been challenged in recent years. The general opinion of scientists today is that the old drawings showed overfed captive specimens. As Mauritius has marked dry and wet seasons, the Dodo probably fattened itself on ripe fruits at the end of the wet season to live through the dry season as food was scarce. ontemporary reports speak of the bird’s greedy appetite, thus, in captivity, with food readily available, the birds would become overfed very easily.
As with many animals that evolve in isolation from predators, the Dodo was almost entirely fearless of people, combined with their inability to fly made them easy prey. Although easy to catch, journals are full of reports regarding the bad taste and tough meat of the Dodo, while other local species such as the Red Rail were praised for their taste. Upon arriving on the island of Mauritius, explorers brought with them animals that had never existed on the island before, including dogs, pigs, cats and rats. These animals would plunder Dodo nests and eat their eggs and young, while humans cut down the forests that the Dodo called home.
The impact that these animals, especially pigs, on the Dodo population, in combination with the simultaneous destruction of the forest, is thought to have been more severe than that of hunting Although there are scattered reports of mass killings of Dodos for provisional purposses, mainly restocking ship food supplies, archaeological investigations have found little evidence of human predation on these birds.
There is some controversy surrounding the extinction date of the Dodo. Roberts & Solow state that "the extinction of the Dodo is commonly dated to the last confirmed sighting in 1662, which was reported by shipwrecked mariner Volkert Evertsz”, but many other sources suggest a more conjectural date of 1681. Roberts & Solow point out that because the last sighting of the Dodo prior to Volkcert’s sighting in 1662 took place in 1638, the Dodo was likely already close to extiniction by the 1660s.
Statistical analysis of the hunting records of Issac Johannes Lamotius, carried out by Julian Hume and coworkers, gave a new estimated extinction date of 1693, with a 95% confidence interval of 1688 to 1715. Considering more circumstantial evidence such as traveller’s reports and the lack of good sighting after 1689, it is likely that the Dodo became extinct before 1700; thus, the last Dodo was killed a mere century after the species was discovered in 1598.
By the 19th century few took particular notice of the extinct bird and was viewed by most as an altogether too strange of creature, believed by many to be a myth. With the discovery of the first batch of Dodo bones in the Mare aux Songes and the reports written by George Clarke, a government schoolmaster at Mahébourg from 1865 on, interest in the bird was rekindled.
In October 2005, part of the Mare aux Songes, the most important site of Dodo remains was excavated by an international team of researchers. Remains were found with represented various stages of maturity, and several bones obviously belonging to the skeleton of one individual bird where found preserved in natural position.. These findings were made public in December 2005 and put on display in the Naturalis, a museum located in Leiden, Netherlands.
Before this discovery, very few Dodo specimens were known, most of the material consisting of isolated and scattered bones. Dublin's Natural History Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, among others, have a specimen assembled from these disassociated remains. A Dodo egg is on display at the East London museum in South Africa and the most intact remains, also at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, are one individual's partly skeletal foot and head, which contain the only known soft tissue remains of the species. These are the remains of the last known stuffed dodo, the decaying remnants of which, at that time in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, were ordered to be burned by the museum's curator or director in 1755, during which the foot and head where salvaged from the burning body.
Through recent DNA testing we know that the Dodo was a close relative of modern pigeons and doves, and gene sequences suggest that the Dodo’s ancestors diverged from its closest known relative, the Rodrigues Solitaire, which is also extinct, sometime near the end of the Paleocene Period. As the islands in which the Dodo called home are volcanic in origin and less than 10 million years old, the Dodo’s ancestors most likely remained capable of flight for some time after the lineages split, only becoming flightless after generations of island living in which the bird no longer needed to use its wings.
So why then, if the Dodo Bird was a scientifically excepted well documented creature, would we place it in the realm of Cryptozoology? Similar to the story of the Thylacine, the Dodo Bird is considered extinct by modern scientist, killed off by the influence of man kind shortly after being discovered, however as is also the case with the Thylacine, from time to time someone will come forward with a claim that they saw a Dodo bird.
These claims mainly come from some of the areas smaller islands which dot the ocean around the bigger islands the Dodo once called home. These smaller islands are mostly uninhabited and for the most part unexplored, making them a good candidate to support a relic breeding population of Dodo Birds. Whether or not these sightings of a Dodo are real, or just a case of mistaken identity, might only be answered after a full scale expedition of these small islands is launched.
No physical evidence to support the existence of the Dodo Bird in modern times has been uncovered to date.
Although sightings of the Dodo Bird have been reported in recent years, no documentation of those sightings could be located at this time.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Avian
• Size: Approximately 3 feet in height
• Weight: About 50 pounds
• Diet: Berries and other local vegetation
• Location: The islands of Mauritius, New Zealand and Micronesia
• Movement: Walking, the Dodo, although an avian, was flightless
• Environment: Lush forest