The dodo, a flightless bird that was found in abundance in Mauritius at one point of time, has been reduced to a mere symbol of extinction today.
The extinction of the dodo, a flightless bird endemic to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, was a major loss to the animal kingdom. It was the first major extinction which was directly related to human activities. In the years to follow, the list of extinct birds just grew in length and the dodo became its mascot.
Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)
The dodo was a ground nesting, flightless bird, which was endemic to Mauritius. It was believed to be of the same family as pigeons. An adult would grow on to attain a height of about a meter and weigh somewhere between 45 - 50 lbs.
The habitat of this species spanned the forests of Mauritius; not the shoreline as many people believe. The seeds and fruits that were found in abundance in the forest were the main constituents of its diet.
The bird probably never felt the need to fly, as it got the food it required on the forest floor itself.
As time elapsed, it lost the desire to fly and eventually, the ability. This turned out to be a major disadvantage for the dodo population, as it left them without any defense against human encroachment in their natural habitat, which eventually drove the bird to extinction.
Note: The exact appearance of the dodo has been a subject of debate for a long time, as there was no proper evidence in the form of pictures like we have today. The only evidence available was in the form of sketches made by amateur artists.
Researchers argue that, though the birds were quite huge in nature, they were not overweight as depicted in most of these sketches. Being flightless, the dodo was not able to spread its population to the other islands in the vicinity and was restricted to Mauritius alone.
How Did it Become Extinct?
The extinction of dodo was triggered in 1505, when the Portuguese sailors set their foot on the Island of Mauritius. Before this, there were no mammals on the island, so the dodo didn't have any threat of predators.
The strategic location of the island was grasped by the European sailors and soon after, it became an important stopover for the ships plying on this route. Other than being flightless, the dodo was also not quite wary of humans. The combination turned out to be a curse for the bird, as it made it easier for humans to hunt it.
Furthermore, domestic animals, like cats, pigs, and monkeys, were also introduced to the island by humans. When ships docked on the island, the rats on these ships escaped onto the shores and made this island their permanent abode.
Though these animals were not able to take on huge dodos, for them their nests on the ground were easy targets. These animals continued to feed on dodo eggs, which were available in plenty.
In the end, excessive hunting for meat and destruction of nesting sites and eggs by domestic animals, both led to a decline in dodo population and brought it to the verge of extinction. The dodo became a relatively rare bird by the beginning of the 17th century, and eventually became extinct, with the last reported sighting coming in 1681.
There has been no consensus as far as the exact date of extinction is concerned, as different sources give different dates within the same year.
Several species have disappeared from the planet over the last 100 years or so, and human interference has a prominent role to play in most of these extinctions. The bad news doesn't just end here, as several hundreds of species are on the verge of extinction.
Their population has already decreased to such an extent that any delay in implementation of proper conservation measures, and these species will meet the same fate as the dodo.