It was one fat bird — one fat, arguably unintelligent, land-bound enigma. Though seen, heard and tasted by hundreds of 17th century explorers and colonists on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, humans have not one perfect representation of it remaining. The birds waddled into extinction less than 400 years ago, yet we have more data on dinosaurs than dodos. The drawings and paintings are partial or fantastical. The organic remains are incomplete and scattered among the world’s museums: a head and foot in England, a reputed — deformed and tanned — skin in Prague, partial skeletons in a dozen other cities. There are some complete skeletons, yes, but there is not one taxidermied specimen. For most, “dodo” just implies stupidity, obsolescence or extinction. Extinction because that’s what made the Mauritian endemic Raphus cucullatus (a.k.a. dodo) famous. It was the dodo’s extirpation at the hands of the Dutch in a short 80 years, likely less — the fact that we humans snapped it off the phylogenetic tree of life before we even had the word phylogenetic — that makes the creature so notable. The Dutch, with help from European seafaring rivals, didn’t just kill a few birds; they wiped out… Read full this story
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