In 1598, when a Dutch ship arrived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, its sailors found a paradise clothed in a dense forest of ebony and bamboo and filled with bewildering wildlife. Many of the animals there were found nowhere else in the world, including a large flightless bird that would eventually be called the Dodo. One hundred years after its discovery the Dodo had vanished making it the first documented case of extinction caused solely by human interference.
Because Mauritius is a volcanic island and was never attached to the mainland, it had no mammals other than bats that had flown there. With no natural predators, the Dodo’s ancestors lost their ability to fly, adopted a ground-nesting habit, and became larger. Seventeenth-century observers commented on its diet of seeds, fruit, and probably tree roots.
The Dodo’s flightless nature made it vulnerable once humans arrived. It was easily hunted by European sailors and colonists who also began to cut down its forest home. Even more devastating were the effects of the non-native animals brought to the island. The pigs, cats, dogs, rats, and crab-eating macaques that arrived underwent a spectacular population explosion in an environment devoid of other mammals. Roaming dogs killed adult Dodos, while the rats, monkeys, and cats preyed on eggs and chicks.
By the middle of the 1600s Dodos were extremely rare and the species was almost certainly extinct before 1700. The date of the last sighting is disputed. For a long time, the date was thought to be 1681, from the account of sailor and scientist Benjamin Harry. Yet many commentators now think Harry may have been referring to another flightless bird, the Mauritian red rail, and the Dodo went extinct earlier.
- Angst, D., Buffetaut, E., & Abourachid, A. (2011) The end of the fat dodo? A new mass estimate for Raphus cucullatus. Naturwissenschaften (2011) 98:233–236
- Cheke, A., & Hume, J. (2008). Lost Land of the Dodo: An Ecological History of Mauritius, Reunion & Rodrigues. Yale University Press, New Haven & London.
- Leon, P.A.M. C., Meijer, H.J. M., Hume, J. & Rijsdijk, K.F., (eds). (2015). Anatomy of the dodo (Raphus cucullatus): An Osteological Study of the Thirioux Specimens. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 35 (6), Memoir 15, 166pp.
- Shapiro, B., Sibthorpe, D., Rambaut, A., Austin J., Wragg, G.M., Bininda-Emonds, O., Lee, P.L.M. & Cooper, A. 2002 Flight of the Dodo. Science 295: 1683.
- Strickland, H.E., & Melville, A.G. (1848) The Dodo and Its Kindred: Or the History, Affinities, and Osteology of the Dodo, Solitaire. And Other Extinct Birds of the Islands Mauritius, Rodriguez and Bourbon. Reeve, Benham and Reeve, London. 141 pp. https://books.google.com/books?id=feNhAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA128&lpg=PA128&dq=cygnus+cucullatus&source=bl&ots=4mVcTlM1oa&sig=FnHTbxchXMCJ4wTPOJkqM9974ik&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAGoVChMIyqqRnLi1yAIVRGk-Ch0hDwN1#v=onepage&q=cygnus%20cucullatus&f=false)
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