Thursday, January 1, 2009

Where did all the Dodos go?

The Dodo was rather a stupid bird. Indeed, it was so stupid that it was named Dodo by the Portuguese when they discovered Mauritius - its home - in 1507. The Portuguese word doudo means stupid.

Mauritius is an island, 720 square miles in area and lying 500 miles to the east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Until the arrival of man, with his attendant creatures such as the cat and dog, the dodo had been able to live in peace. It had no enemies, which was fortunate because it was big and clumsy and was completely unsuited to fleeing from danger. Its short legs were almost incapable of supporting the weight of the fat, round body (about the size of a swan's) and the ridiculously inadequate, stubby wings were of no use for flying.

Within 180 years of its discovery by the Portuguese, the dodo was extinct. Over the intervening years, several were brought to Europe alive, and one was to be seen in London in 1638. By 1680 the dodo had succumbed.

With the help of drawings and by the collection of bones gathered in Mauritius, an almost complete reconstruction has been made of the poor bird. It can be seen at the Natural History in London.

Mauritius is the only place in the world where the bird is known to have existed. A similar bird once lived on the neighboring island of Rodriguez, but this also has been extinct.

The phrase, "as dead as the dodo" is used to mean that something is very dead indeed.

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