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The First Human Caused Extinction The Dodo
The Dodo was the first species to be eradicated by human intervention. Learn about this flightless dove
and its ecological loss.
Posted by Catherine Owen | Last updated: Dec 2, 2013
The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is the most famous bird species to become
extinct at the hands of humans. This is both because it was the first such
noted extinction, and because its very name has served as a symbol of
derision over the centuries. It became extinct on Reunion Island in Mauritius
in 1680.
The Dodo's Appearance and
Habits
The Dodo was a flightless dove
with gentle, placid qualities. Its
body was plump, around fifty
pounds when fully grown. The bill
was hooked and green and yellow
in hue. It had small, bright eyes,
three plumes for a tail and tiny
stubby wings. Unused to humans,
and passive in nature, the Dodo
would not even run away when pursued. It often sat quietly on its nest or
even trotted up to its attackers.
Along with the common Dodo, there were three other species of giant dove
that lived on these islands in Mauritius, two of them called Solitaires and one
a White Dodo. Though these birds were both more aggressive and more
attractive than the Common Dodo, they too were slaughtered and had
vanished by 1700.
All three species of Dodo engaged in elaborate mating rituals, clapping their
shrunken wings against their sides to make a rattling sound. They only laid
one egg at a time, the parents remaining a unit to raise the single chick. They
were so sensitive, one observer of the day wrote, "When caught, they make
no sound, but shed tears" (Day 30).
The Dodo's Extinction
The Dodo disappeared for two main reasons, both of them human created.
The first was rapaciousness, not brought on solely by hunger, as there were
lots of other birds to eat on the island, but by the desire to eradicate this
species. When Portuguese sailors landed on this island in the 1620s, they
began the easy slaughter of the Dodo. They would walk up to it and simply
club it to death. Its meat wasn't even tasty, neither was it a pest. Calling the
bird a name that meant "stupid" in their language, the sailors determined to
rid the island of this flightless dove.
In 1644, the situation worsened for the Dodo as it became a Dutch colony.
The settlers brought rats and pigs with them, as well as pet monkeys, dogs
and cats. Any bird that the colonizers didn't directly kill, the animals attached
to them did. While the Dodos might have lived peaceably with the humans,
the pigs and monkeys overran the island and the rats caused them to flee. By
then the Dodo was extinct.
With the Dodo's death, other species that relied on it for survival also died
out. For instance, the Calvaria tree stopped reproducing after the Dodo
vanished. The tree was dependent on germination created by the seeds the
Dodo had digested. An ecological web was thereby ruptured by human
carelessness and no one on earth will ever see the Dodo again.