Dodo DNA

by Harry Miller December 17, 2019


If you sail due east from central Madagascar you should reach the tropical paradise known as Mauritius, but please note, if you manage to miss Mauritius you won’t see land for a further 4000 miles, and when you do it’ll be Australia (eventually), so make sure you have an experienced captain.  

Maybe flying’s the best option: after all, one of their most famous inhabitants flew there - albeit thousands of years ago - and they liked it so much they stayed for good! 

Now, if we think Mauritius is a paradise, then the famous flying visitor I talk of must have thought it was truly Nirvana.  Their favourite food, fruits and nuts, were freely available on the ground, and with no predators on the islands there was no more need for wings.

Over many years the bird grew large in size and lost the ability of flight altogether; scientists call this phenomenon ‘secondary flightlessness’ - the same fait happened to penguins, ostriches, and chickens.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking about the sad tale of the extinct Dodo.  

It was the Dutch who decided to commit to this paradise in the 1600’s, and they named it after their head of state, Maurice.  It is suggested that they also named the large flightless bird they encountered “dodoor”, which unflatteringly means sluggard.      

Accounts of the Dodo suggest they were relatively fearless of man: after all, they had never experienced them before, and many would have inquisitively walked towards their doom; although it is said that the human settlers were mostly put off by the taste of their meat, and so thankfully the dodo didn’t die out from us dining out.  

It was in fact the other beasts that travelled with man which finished off the Dodo, the rats and the pigs, for they didn’t just eat fruits and nuts, they also ate dodo eggs.  Unfortunately being flightless meant that the dodo nests could easily be found on the ground, and to add insult to injury they only laid one egg at a time.   

It’s a tragic story, but amazingly there might be glimmer of hope for the dodo - albeit with ethical considerations - as the bird is officially on the de-extinction list.  All we need is some dodo DNA, some scientific wizardry, and a surrogate mother: which is where the Nicobar Pigeon steps in, the closest living relative to the dodo - who’ll be relieved to hear that there won’t be any giant egg laying involved!  

Harry Miller
Harry Miller


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