The Dodo and the Downfall

Pruthvi Guduru

The Dodo Bird is an extinct creature. It frequently appears in pop culture, from movies like Ice Age 1, to tv shows like Phineas and Ferb. The Dodo Bird, also known as Ralphus cucullatus, was a flightless bird that was native to Mauritius island. Besides Ralphus calcullatus, there were also two other species that were part of the Raphidae family, the Ralphus solitarius of Réunion island and the Pezophaps solitaria of Rodrigues island.

In order to understand how Ralphus cucullatus managed to survive up until the 1500’s- 1600’s, we must first understand the Mauritaus Island. Mauritius Island is located in the Indian Ocean, just about 500 miles east of Madagascar. Mauritius Island was formed about 8 million years ago and is a volcanic island with a subtropical climate. Mauritius Island also had occasional cyclones and food shortages. Mauritius Island also suffered from wildfires and long, severe droughts. There was even a toxic freshwater lake that emerged around 4,200 years ago, in the Mare aux Songes region of Mauritius Island. Throughout the lifetime of the Mauritius Island, many species have died off, yet the Dodo Bird survived and persisted, for about 200,000 years. The Dodo Bird was recorded to usually weigh about 50 pounds, or 23 kilograms. The Dodo Bird was also recorded to be approximately 3 feet tall. Before coming in contact with Portuguese sailors in around 1507, the Dodo Bird did not have any predators, hence the bird being flightless. However, despite popular belief, this did not hinder the Dodo’s speed as many settlers wrote down their experiences of hunting Dodo, and how it was incredibly hard, because the Dodos were able to move incredibly fast. Dodo Birds are also not dumb, despite what many people might believe. Eugenia Gold, an Anatomical Science Instructor at Stony Brook University, conducted a research experiment, where he and fellow researchers, analyzed the skull of a Dodo Bird and measured it.

"It's not impressively large or small, it's exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size…So if you take brain size as a proxy for intelligence, dodos probably had a similar intelligence level to pigeons. Of course, there's more to intelligence than just overall brain size, but this gives us a basic measure." said Gold. Pigeons are often known as one of the smartest birds on the planet. Pigeons have been recorded to recognize its reflection in a mirror, and even find differences between multiple photographs.

When the Portuguese sailors came to the Mauritius islands they also brought other species of animals with them, like pigs, deer, rats, monkeys, and goats, which also contributed to the extinction of the Dodo. Not all of these animals ate Dodo Birds, but they did eat the food sources for Dodos, limiting the amount of food available for one Dodo. Some of the animals, like pigs, did eat Dodo bird eggs and chicks.

The Dodo Bird’s tale is a tale of adaptation and survival. The Dodo Bird is also a cautionary tale of human intervention, curiosity, and wrath. Despite this tragedy, the extinction of the Dodo bird has helped bring light to many endangered species all over the world, as many organizations and companies are trying to save these endangered species, such as the Kakapo, which is also a flightless bird, like the extinct, but not forgotten, Dodo Bird.