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"THE DODO"

 The dodo once waddled along the deserted beaches of Mauritius blissfully unaware than when man arrived in the sixteenth century he would shake the harmony of its existence.

 

 

The Dodo was first sighted around 1600 on Mauritius and it  was extinct less than eighty years later. The skeleton as shown below is on view in the Museum and  is real.

 

 

The model of the Dodo as shown below   is not real, as there are no complete Dodo specimens. Some of the birds may have been eaten by the Dutch sailors who discovered them. However, the primary causes of their extinction were the destruction of the forest (which cut off the Dodo's food supply), and the animals that the sailors brought with them, including cats, rats, and pigs, which destroyed the Dodo nests.

 

 

The Dodo's stubby wings and heavy, ungainly body tell us that the bird was flightless. Moreover, its breastbone is too small to support the huge pectoral muscles a bird this size would need to fly. Yet scientists believe that the Dodo evolved from a bird capable of flight into a flightless one. When an ancestor of the Dodo landed on Mauritius, it found a habitat with plenty of food and no predators. It therefore did not need to fly, and, as flying takes a great deal of energy, it was more efficient for the bird to remain on the ground. Eventually, the flightless Dodo evolved.

Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions around the world continue to study and document the impact of human activities on the environment. It is hoped that the lesson of the Dodo can help prevent similar extinctions, and aid us in preserving the diversity of life on earth.

 Myth of the fat Dodo

The bird's obesity, slowness and lack of intelligence are commonly given as reasons for its alleged evolutionary inferiority. Dodos were for years considered not just large, but grossly overweight to the point that they not only couldn't fly, but could hardly run from their enemies. Kitchener, though, in studying the written record, found that the earliest dodo drawings showed rather thin birds, only those drawn later show the familiar podgy variety.   He found that thin dodos were drawn by those who had actually visited Mauritius, the plumper birds were drawn mostly by artists in Europe. More than a dozen original pictures (both drawings and paintings) of the dodo now exist. Kitchener next evaluated the hundreds of dodo bones that have been unearthed. Using methods developed by criminologists and archaeologists to reconstruct flesh on bones, he was able to determine that the skeletal pattern produced a bird 'remarkably similar to the first drawing of the dodo'. namely the thinner birds.  He concluded that 'according to four different methods, all based on the dodo's bones, the famous flightless pigeon weighed between 10.6 and 17.5 kilograms'.  Evaluation of the cantilever strength of leg bones produces a relationship which can be used to determine the running abilities of different sized animals. This method revealed good evidence for the conclusion that they were indeed 'swift of foot', a conclusion which corresponds with eyewitness accounts which stated that the dodo 'could run very fast'.  While this analysis is not without problems, it has produced eminently reasonable conclusions, especially since the opposite thesis has little empirical evidence in its favour. Since Kitchener's first evaluation, original unpublished dodo drawings completed between 1601 and 1602 were rediscovered in a museum in The Hague, the Netherlands. These showed that Kitchener's conclusions were correct, the dodo was thinner and the femur design was tilted downwards, reducing the bending forces on it and allowing it to shift its centre of gravity.  This evidence demonstrates that the dodo was an effective, fast runner. Kitchener concludes, 'for more than 350 years the dodo has been thoroughly misrepresented as plump and immobile. The reality is, however, that in the forests of Mauritius it was lithe and active. Like other Mauritian birds it would have undergone a seasonal fat cycle to overcome shortages of food, but never to the extent that those wonderful oil paintings suggest.'

The last survivors

Since the birds were easy to capture, Dutch colonists, along with sailors and visitors, soon consumed most of the dodo population. Animals they brought with them, especially dogs, cats, and pigs, ate the fledglings and broke the dodo eggs to consume the yolks. By 1681, the dodos were all gone. Rather than demonstrate the weakness of the dodo, their history effectively demonstrates the gross irresponsibility of their caretakers. According to Panati, 'not a single naturalist had attempted to mate any of the captive dodos; they left no descendants.' The last dodo in England was stuffed by English naturalist John Tradescant. When Tradescant died in 1662, his entire natural history collection was bequeathed to an acquaintance, Elias Ashmole. Because of his irresponsibility, the entire collection's condition greatly deteriorated, and he donated the bird to Oxford University in 1683, two years after the last living dodo was seen on Mauritius. Even Oxford did not take very good care of the bird, and except for the head and foot saved by a farsighted curator, it was later burned as trash in 1755. Evidently 'the museum's board of directors took one look at the dusty, stupid-looking bird and unanimously voted to discard it'.  The intrigue over the bird was such that by 1800 'professional naturalists were casting doubt on written descriptions of the bird, as well as on extant drawings . . . it became scientific vogue to deny the bird's existence and to challenge the Oxford head and foot as fakes'.] If it was a genuine bird, the critics reasoned, certainly there would have been extensive efforts to preserve it or at least a good skeleton.

Search for evidence

A group of zoologists searched in 1850 for evidence, to the extent of travelling to Mauritius looking for bones and found none. Soon the dodo was denounced as a scientific fraud. Evidence did not surface until a resident of Mauritius, George Clark, searched the island and in time discovered numerous scattered bones. His specimens were soon shipped to major museums, and after study were pronounced authentic. These researchers later attempted to assemble the bone fragments, many in poor condition, into complete dodo skeletons. They are now regarded as real animals, but the many other myths surrounding them have died slowly. These myths were widely believed because they seemed to support the idea of evolutionary naturalism.   Now that the bird has been extensively studied, we realise that the facts do not support  the evolutionary myth, but do support the moral bankruptcy of   humankind.

 

 


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