When i got the Illustration Friday notification , I thought of Dodos right away, since there has recently been news about a dodo mass grave that is thought to be about 2000 years old.
Until this discovery , dodo remains were very,very rare. Very few specimens were left and the skeletons on display in many museums were made up from the bones of different birds.
A single dodo head and foot were considered the best and these were kept in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Most people know that dodos , Raphus cucullatus, became extinct very quickly after being discovered on the Island of Mauritius by Portuguese sailors in the 16th century. The idiom 'dead as a dodo' means 'absolutely dead ' and I suppose reminds us that once a species is extinct, it has gone for good.
The name Dodo is thought to be related to the old Portuguese word for fool , doudo, or to the Dutch, dodoor which means sluggard.
Descriptions and paintings of the dodo vary but there seems to a general consensus that the bird was a blue grey colour, with yellow legs, a tuft of white feathers as a tail and a large and hooked beak.
The birds were flightless as their small wings were too weak to support their considerable bulk. They were about a metre [3ft] tall and had no natural predators until they started being hunted by man [though not really for food] and pigs, rats and dogs were introduced to the island.
These foreign animals either ate the dodos themselves or their eggs leading to a very rapid decline in numbers and its likely that the last dodo died not much more than a century after they were first discovered.
Some people used to think that a particular tree called the Tambalacoque or dodonut tree Sideroxylon grandiflorum declined due to the extinction of the dodo.
It was postulated that the seeds required to be partially digested by dodos before they would germinate , but it turns out that this theory was incorrect and that there were other factors involved [the introduced animals may have played a part by eating seedlings] and no real evidence that dodos had ever been a major part of the plant lifecycle.
In an old British tv comedy show, The Goodies - the reason for the extinction of the dodo was said to be its delicious flavour.
However 17th century writings about the bird suggested that it was eaten as a last resort as the flesh was tough and dodos were even called Walgvogels [nauseating birds] by the Dutch sailors which doesn't sound very appetising -although they were apparently salted in barrels and used later in the voyage and maybe they tasted better when there was little choice. It somehow seems worse to me that the birds ended up extinct when they were not enjoyed as food.