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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Discovery of Mass Dodo Grave 

Scientists have found a mass grave of dodo birds on the tropical island of Mauritius, which lies off the coast of southern Africa in the Indian Sea.

The bones came from about twenty dodos, and even include a few chicks. The complete skeleton of a dodo has never been found on the island. The last known full skeleton, and the only one known to exist at the time, was on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford until 1755. During that year, the museum director thought the mounted dodo looked a bit scruffy and threw it on a bonfire. One museum worker managed to salvage the beak and one limb from the fire. These are currently on display at the University Museum at Oxford.

Scientists were able to pull DNA from the recently discovered bones, which could fill out many gaps in the mysterious lives of these large, fifty-pound, flightless birds.

Dodos were utterly destroyed in the 1600s by Europeans arriving on the island. They deforested the dodo's habitat. The Dutch and Portuguese did not enjoy eating the dodo, which they found to have a bad texture, but the pigs, rats, and dogs, and monkeys they brought with them frequently plundered the nests of dodo birds. The last sighting of a living dodo was in 1663. Like the thylacine, the passenger pigeon, and the California grizzly, these animals suffered at the hands of humans. Perhaps now science can tell us something of this amazing bird, lost to antiquity and humanity's ignorance.

posted 1:14 PM

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