The dodo was a flightless bird that once thrived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The bird was said to have been first encountered by Dutch explorers in 1598; although the island was visited by the Portuguese in 1507, records show no mention of the birds.
Dodos are often thought to have been fat and clumsy, but scientists have largely come to reject that notion. It is thought that they did plump up during the rainy season on Mauritius when food was plentiful, but they also slimmed down in the dry season. Drawings of fat dodos that slightly resemble modern-day chickens may have been of birds during this wet season, or they may have been birds that were overfed in captivity. It is also possible that dodos that were preserved and stuffed were stuffed poorly, and that living wild dodos were much slimmer.
Hunted to Extinction
The dodo had no natural predators in their natural environment, so they were relatively fearless when they encountered humans. When combined with their flightlessness, this fearlessness made the dodo easy prey for hunters and animals such as dogs, pigs, and rats that were brought to the island by humans. By the 17th Century, the dodo was extinct due to overhunting and the introduction of the aforementioned prey animals. The last confirmed sighting of a living dodo was in the 1660s.
Back in the 17th Century, many scientists didn’t realize that species could really disappear from the world forever. Sadly, this meant that the scientific community paid much attention to the dodo or understand the magnitude of humans effectively hunting a species out of existence. There were specimens that were preserved such as stuffed dodos and dodo bones, and these were studied by scientists, but many of these were poorly preserved. The thinking was that there must have been more dodos out there somewhere, so any damaged specimens could be easily replaced. Naturally, this turned out not to be the case. The dodo is gone forever, and it has been for over 300 years.
Today, we are able to study the fossilized remains of the dodo and learn quite a bit about the species, but there will always be much that we will never know. As it stands now, the story of the dodo can be taken as a cautionary tale about how careless humans can affect the environment and eradicate an entire species.