We were certainly cognizant of dodo birds (Raphus cucullatus) before we arrived in Mauritius. Dodos are probably the most well-known extinct bird there is … bringing the phrase “dead as a dodo” to mind. I guess we didn't realize, however, that they were endemic here to the island of Mauritius. A large, flightless bird, the dodo had no natural predators on Mauritius, so the species flourished. Once the Europeans arrived with rats, dogs, pigs and other predators which attacked the dodo as well as its ground nests and eggs, the poor bird was doomed. The dodo became extinct sometime in the late 17th century.
Dodos were huge birds … about 3 feet (1m) tall and weighing in around 30 lbs (14kg).That's a big bird...about the size of a big tom turkey. The Mauritius Natural History Museum was a good place to learn more about them. They have dedicated a room (albeit a small one) entitled “The World of the Dodo”. They have some bones and a fabricated dodo under glass, based upon sketches by early Dutch visitors (1598). They named them as “walghvogel” meaning wallow bird or loathsome bird, referring to their taste. It only took about 60 years of man's presence to totally eradicate a bird that, in the whole world, only existed here.
On the fenced lawn in front of the museum, they have a “flock” of dodos reminiscent of the famous decorated Chicago cows, the mermaids of Norfolk, the boots of Cheyenne and the lobsters of Rockland, Maine.
The dodo bird might be extinct, but there's lots of evidence that it once existed here. It's a major theme throughout the island. From souvenirs and tchotchkes, to postage stamps, to matchboxes, to the Flying Dodo Brewing Company, and even the Mauritius Coat of Arms, there are iconic reminders everywhere of what once was. Still looking for a dodo on velvet to bring back as a souvenir.