Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Flightless Dodo Bird Remains Sell For $416,000 at Auction in England

Rare bird extinguished by hungry sailors in its native Mauritius during the 1700's.

 

December 5, 2016

Oxford display of a Dodo skeleton

A Billinghurst, England auction of a Dodo bird skeleton garnered $416,000. The rare bird was extirpated by hungry sailors in its native New Zealand during the 1700's. Adult Dodo birds were the size of a German Shepherd dog.

The bird's name recognition was enhanced by Lewis Carroll, who included a dodo in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

Sailors hunted the dodo into extinction in the 17th century and it has come to symbolize the harsh impact man can have on the world's ecosystem.

Summer's Auction House director Rupert van der Werff set the guide price for the skeleton to be auctioned Tuesday in Billinghurst is estimated to be between 300,000-500,000 pounds ($373,630 to $622,780), noting that interest in the composite skeleton, was high.

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

The dodo's closest genetic relative was the also extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. The closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. A white dodo was once thought to have existed on the nearby island of Réunion, but this is now thought to have been confusion based on the Réunion ibis and paintings of white dodos.

Subfossil remains show the dodo was about 3 ft 3 in tall and may have weighed 23–47 lbs. The dodo's appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century.

Because these vary considerably, and because only some illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains unresolved, and little is known about its behavior. Though the dodo has historically been considered fat and clumsy, it is now thought to have been well-adapted for its ecosystem.

It has been depicted with brownish-grey plumage, yellow feet, a tuft of tail feathers, a grey, naked head, and a black, yellow, and green beak. It used gizzard stones to help digest its food, which is thought to have included fruits, and its main habitat is believed to have been the woods in the drier coastal areas of Mauritius.

One account states its clutch consisted of a single egg. It is presumed that the dodo became flightless because of the ready availability of abundant food sources and a relative absence of predators on Mauritius.

The flightless dodo bird made an easy meal for a hungry sailor

The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors and invasive species, while its habitat was being destroyed. The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. Its extinction was not immediately noticed, and some considered it to be a mythical creature.

In the 19th century, research was conducted on a small quantity of remains of four specimens that had been brought to Europe in the early 17th century. Among these is a dried head, the only soft tissue of the dodo that remains today. Since then, a large amount of subfossil material has been collected on Mauritius, mostly from the Mare aux Songes swamp.

The extinction of the dodo within less than a century of its discovery called attention to the previously unrecognized problem of human involvement in the disappearance of entire species. The dodo achieved widespread recognition from its role in the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and it has since become a fixture in popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence.

 

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