The Dodo (Raphus Cucullatus) is an extinct bird that was native to Mauritius. The very isolation of Mauritius let the Birds grow and evolve without any natural predators, unfortunately it is thought that it is this that led to their extinction. Because their natural environment lacked any significant predators, dodos were not scared of people. This, combined with flightlessness, made them easy prey. In 1505, Portuguese sailors arrived on Mauritius, this was the beginning of a incoming storm of environmental destruction. In 1581, when dogs and pigs were brought onto the island, things changed, the Dodo was no longer safe on the ground. These animals would eat the birds eggs. Man introduced other new species and started hunting the Dodo bird. Within 200 years there would be no more Dodo. The last widely accepted sighting of a Dodo was in 1662, although some researchers believe they became extinct in 1680. It is the first species to be counted as becoming extinct because of human activity.
Original drawings of the Dodo portrayed them as fat and clumsy, scientists have now challenged that view. Because Mauritius has dry and wet seasons, they gained weight at the end of the wet season and slimmed down when food was scarce during the dry season. These drawings developed the Dodo birds’ image as greedy bird, with a large hooked beak and a big appetite. Gray in colour, they may have been related to the pigeon family. Our view of what they looked like may well have come from looking at the illustration in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It has since become a fixture in popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence. It is frequently used as a mascot in Mauritius and images of the bird can be found throughout the island.
As no complete Dodo specimens exist, its external appearance, such as plumage and colouration are difficult to determine. According to most representations, they had greyish or brownish plumage, with lighter primary feathers and a tuft of curly light feathers high on its rear end. The head was grey and naked, the beak green, black and yellow, and the legs were stout and yellowish, with black claws. They were thought to be 1 metre tall, and weighing up to 23 kilograms (51 lb).
Very little is known about their behaviour, their preferred habitat is unknown, but old descriptions suggest that it lived in the woods on the drier coastal areas of south and west Mauritius. It is thought to have eaten fallen fruits, as well as nuts, seeds, bulbs, and roots . Many endemic species of Mauritius became extinct after the arrival of humans, so the eco-system of the island is badly damaged and hard to reconstruct. Before humans arrived, Mauritius was entirely covered in forests, but very little remains of them today, due to deforestation.
Even though the rareness of the Dodo was reported in the 17th century, its extinction was not recognised until the 19th century. This was partly because, for religious reasons, extinction was not believed possible and partly because many scientists doubted that the Dodo had even existed. It was altogether too strange a creature, and many believed it a myth.
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