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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dodo: the extinct bird

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Dead as dodo
Long long ago in the island of Mauritius, lived a big population of flightless, innocent and gentle birds named as “dodo”. The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe). Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo — the most famous extinct species on Earth. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts, and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.

DODO Bird : Reconstruction (Raphus cucullatus) reflecting new research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Isolated by the location of island habitat in the ocean, these birds were unknown to human beings till 1958 when Portuguise sailors landed on the shores of island. Since dodos had never seen a man earlier, they could not understand the cruelty hidden inside the strangers and greeted them with childish innocence. As cruel and criminal minded affluent men treat the poor and innocent but skilled people on earth, the wicked sailors thought these birds as stupid mistaking the gentle spirit of the birds and their lack of the fear from the new predators.

Now the dodos had to face not only men but to the other predators like dogs, pigs, rats etc. also that were brought by them to the new location. The cruel sailors started killing and eating dodo birds describing them as “flesh pots”.Their dogs started eating their eggs. Pigs and rats did everything they could do to disturb and alter their habitats. As the men from outside started felling trees to meet their own ends, pigs in turn dug out their roots and crushed out the eggs of dodos on the ground. As the bird was flightless, it was bound to build its nests on the ground. Their young afforded little protection against the introduced predators like feral dogs and pigs that were left there by the Portuguise sailors. The dogs and the wild pigs trampled and ate away their eggs and the great strain compounding on the birds made it very hard for them to survive any more on the island on which they were living for centuries. Finally, the birds were lost to the world.

The last dodo had died in 1981 leaving the cruel and offensive men to do more and more cruelty and offence, and to suffer more and more in return (Roberts and Solo, 2003).Now dodo’s significance as one of the best known extinct animal and its singular appearance has led to its use in literature and popular culture to symbolize a concept or object that will or has become out of date, as in the expression –“dead as dodo” or “gone the way of the dodo”(Steve Miller, 2006).

The Anatomy of the bird
Dodo was a plump flightless bird weighing approximately 20 to 30 kg. It was grey in colour with a large hooked beak and a plume of white feathers adorning the rear of the body of the bird. It had small reduced weak wings that were inefficient to lift up the heavy body of the bird into the air. This morphological weakness of the bird made it prone to the danger from the Portuguise invaders who clubbed it to death when it approached them in search of friendship.

Today, the skeleton of dodo is not available except some bones and the whole story about dodo’s morphology and anatomy and its behavior can not be formulated even after great attempts. The work of the Museum Curator Andrew Kitchener suggests that the bird could have a weight ranging from 13 to 17 kg. After the analysis of the available bones of the bird the curator predicted that the bird was not as fat as reported and shown through the European portrait of the bird.

Impact of dodo’s extinction on environment
The extinction of the important bird species dodo is a permanent certificate of the impact of human activities on the environment. It indicates how human beings can disrupt the delicate balance of nature by eradicating whole species just for their amusement, and unnecessary needs. History is witness to a large number of human activities of destruction just for the sake of amusement, words of praise or time pass. Kings and princes of Indian dynasties used to kill wild animals and large number of birds in their natural habitats just because they had no other works to do.

Soon after the extinction of the dodo birds the Mauritian “Calvaria trees” stopped sprouting seeds (Witmer and Cheke, 1991). Human activities of cutting and clearing of these trees washed away the already standing ones. Thus the tree species too became extinct. It has been reported that the seeds of Mauritian trees sprouted only after they passed through the intestinal tracts of dodos. Now that the bird had gone extinct, it happened to be impossible for Calvaria seeds to sprout. This historic incident is an example of the close linkages that exist among the components of an ecosystem. Whenever a particular plant or animal goes extinct, it becomes very difficult for the levels of other organisms to survive. Thus extinction of one species of organism is sure to push a number of other species of organisms towards extinction. This is the reason why the environmentalists the world over and various organizations like the Center for Biodiversity- Mexico are advocating, rather fighting for the protection of biodiversity on this planet.

The dodo bird verdict

In Alice Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865), it is narrated somewhere that – a number of characters became wet at a certain point of the story. The dodo decided to issue a competition and as per the rules of the competition organized by dodo, everyone of the group was asked to run around a lake until he was dry. Nobody had to measure how long and how far he had to run around the lake so as to get dry completely. When all of them came to dodo to know the result about who had won, the dodo declared – everyone has won and everyone will receive equal prize. This is called as the “Dodo bird verdict”.

More about dodo
The extinction of dodo bird indicates towards the greatest cruelty done against a particular animal. Hence the extinction of dodo bird is regarded as a great event in the history of environment. It is due to this reason that the Center for Biodiversity has instituted the “Rubber Dodo” award to offer the person who ranks first among the nominated enemies of environment or the biodiversity. The 2008 Rubber Dodo Award was won by the Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. He had sought to remove Endangered Species Act Protection for the Polar Bear, suppressed and lied about State Global Warming Studies, and denied that Global Warming was caused by Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The nominees for the 2009 Dodo Rubber Award are - Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship- who is CEO of West Virginia's largest coal company, the ringleader behind the anti-climate legislation, pro-coal, anti-union Friends of America 2009 Labor Day rally made infamous by the Center and allies; TAREX Portfolio Manager & Tejon Ranch Corporation Board Member Michael Winner who is famous for pushing to build the largest master-planned community in California’s history, he intends to destroy up to 19,000 acres of designated "critical habitat" for the endangered California condor; Idaho Governor Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter who is well-known for his desire to eradicate gray wolves from Idaho, Governor Otter celebrated the removal of his state's gray wolves from the endangered species list at an anti-environmental rally; Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the Senator, has one of the most anti-environmental records in Congress and has vowed to do all he can to block progress against global warming -- which he won't even acknowledge exists.

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