Dodos–Saving the World for Wildlife *and* People
Well, there’s no point in getting angry over human appetite; Mauritius is not the largest of islands, and the dodos were big (3 ft. tall), flightless, and easy prey. Readers should also note that while the demise of the Dodo has become a cautionary tale, few people are aware that the Dodo’s closest genetic relative, the Rodriguez Solitaire, also went extinct soon after discovery.
So what can we make of this uncomfortable bit of history? Maybe the first place to look for an answer is the present. What’s remarkable, from RT’s perspective, is a) the survival of Mauritius’s ecosystem and b) the impressive prosperity enjoyed by its people. This is not to say that humankind’s toll on the island’s wildlife hasn’t been significant; over the course of four centuries, it has. More than 100 species of plants and animals have gone extinct, and less than 2 percent of the original forest cover remains. But here is the good news: conservation organizations, starting in the 1980s, have saved the Mauritius kestrel, Mauritius parakeet and pink pigeon; undertaken forest management and restoration; and established captive breeding programs and endemic nurseries. Three organizations are engaged in the effort: the National Parks and Conservation Service; the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation; and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The history of the nation is colorful, as we might imagine: discovered by the Portuguese, Mauritius was subsequently colonized by the Dutch, French, and British, the last of who granted independence to the country in 1968. The country has a political system modeled on the Westminster’s and a history of peaceful elections, despite its diverse demographic: the largest segment of the population is of Indian background, but the number of French-, Creole-, and Sino-Mauritians is also significant. Not surprisingly, the country is polyglot, with English and French being “unofficial” official languages, but Mauritian-Creole is the mother tongue of most citizens.
As for the Dodo: recent efforts have led to the recovery of at least 17 Dodo skeletons, and, in 2007, the most complete Dodo skeleton yet recovered was found in a highlands cave. No DNA has been extracted so far, but these finds are rapidly advancing scientific study of the bird.
Image: top: Painting of a dodo head (1683); (one of the last images of the bird made from life). Cornelis Saftleven. bottom: Mauritius Pink Pigeon; Author, Trisha M. Shears. Both photos: WikiCmns; Public Domain.