Bird Families

Mauritian Dodo, aka the Dodo Bird: a species destroyed by sailors


Tambalakoke - Dodo tree from the island of Mauritius

1. Tambalakoke iron tree

On the tropical island of Mauritius, which is part of the Mascarene Islands group located in the distant Indian Ocean, there is a mysterious tree Tambalakoke (Sideroxylon grandiflorum) from the Sapotaceae family. Outwardly, it resembles a ficus with oval leathery leaves. Tambalacoke seeds are similar to a peach bone, but the carvings on it are not so deep, and the shell itself is thick and strong.

Like all sideroxylons, whose Latin name comes from the Greek words sideros - "iron" and xylon - "wood", Tambalakoke has an unusually strong and very valuable wood.

In the 70s of the twentieth century, when scientists tried to count the copies of tambalakoke remaining on the island, it turned out that there were only 13 copies left. Moreover, these trees were very old, their age exceeded three hundred years. Young trees and seedlings were not found. And although the old trees bore fruit regularly, attempts to germinate seeds were unsuccessful.

We began to analyze and compare the available information. Here a hypothesis arose, which received confirmation that for germination, seeds simply need to pass through the gastrointestinal tract of a dodo bird or dodo, as it is also called. But the dodo became extinct about three hundred years ago - about the same age as the surviving specimens of Tambalakoke. No dodos - no young plants ..

At the Oxford Natural History Museum
university recreated the look of dodo

2. Who are you, the legendary Dodo?

Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) Is a large flightless bird, endemic to the island of Mauritius, a close relative of pigeons. Its height was about a meter, and its weight was about 20 kg. The birds made their nests on the ground, in the forest, and ate fruits. A particularly favorite food for the dodo was the tambalakoke fruit. The name of this bird is often used as an example of a creature whose disappearance is a direct result of human activity.

The first description of the dodo was made by Dutch sailors. They called him walghvogel - a vile bird, meaning the taste of his meat. Later, however, it was noted that dodo meat is simply less tasty than pigeon meat, but it is quite edible. However, it is the name walghvogel was used by the Dutch vice admiral Wybrand van Warwijck, who visited this distant island in 1598 and named it Mauritius. He also made the first notes on the appearance of the bird and its detailed description in the logbook.

The origin of the name "dodo" is lost in the depths of time. There are many versions on this score, the most plausible of which are, first, the distorted Dutch dodaars, literally meaning "ass knot", which appeared due to the beautifully twisted in the form of a knot of feathers on the tail of this unique bird and, secondly, the onomatopoeic "do-doo", based on the sounds that echoed among themselves dodos.

Like many animals that lived in isolation from natural predators, the dodo did not feel fear of newcomers.In combination with the inability to fly, this made them completely defenseless against humans. And although the meat of birds was considered tasteless, with the skillful use of local spices, which significantly improve its taste, it was actively eaten by sailors and settlers.

The image of the dodo is decorated
coat of arms of the Republic of Mauritius

In addition, people brought new, hitherto unknown animals to Mauritius: dogs, cats, rats, pigs and crab-eating macaques. These animals ravaged the nests of the dodo. Animals, especially pigs and macaques, have caused more damage to the dodo population than even hunting. At the same time, people cut down the forests where these nests were built.

It is believed that by the end of the 17th century, the dodo finally ceased to exist as a species. From that time until the middle of the 19th century, the dodo was practically forgotten, many considered them to be just a mythological creature, like the fabulous bird Rukh. And only the discovery of the bones of these birds in the Mauritian swamps and the reports on this expedition, published in 1865 by the Englishman George Clark, rekindled interest in these birds that disappeared forever.

In the same year, the dodo, whose existence has now been scientifically proven, was bred by Lewis Carroll, a remarkable English mathematician and writer, as one of the characters in his famous book Alice in Wonderland. Thanks to this book, the popularity of which has only increased over time, the dodo has become a well-known and easily recognizable symbol. His image was used by the famous English zoologist Gerald Darrell at the Foundation for the Conservation of the Animal World and the Zoological Park in Jersey, where he foundedsymbolizes species that require protection from extinction.

The main thing is a creative approach,
judges the wise Dodo

3. Turkeys and turtles take the baton

No dodos, no young plants? But it is not all that bad. The studies carried out gave grounds for greater optimism: it is still possible to germinate seeds. Probably, the dodo was not the only lover of tambalakoke fruits - other extinct animals of Mauritius also feasted on them: giant turtles, giant skinks, fruit bats, broad-mouthed parrot (Lophopsittacus mauritianus).

Some surviving "relatives" of extinct animals are able to provide the same assistance in germinating seeds.

The seeds passed through the stomachs of the giant tortoise Aldabra (Geochelone gigantea) not only germinated normally - the plants grown from them turned out to be larger, healthier and more resistant to diseases.

Ordinary turkeys and simple methods of scarification also turned out to be good helpers in germination - good results were obtained using a special machine used in jewelry for grinding precious stones.

It is also possible that the young specimens of tambalakoke on the island were simply confused with sideroxylons of other species, since outwardly they are very similar to each other. The presented photographs just show these species - Sideroxylon cinerum and Sideroxylon puberulum . One way or another, scientists hope that the iron tree will not suffer the fate of the dodo.