Everyone has heard the phrase ‘dead as a Dodo’, but what else do you really know about this portly bird, arguably Mauritius’ most famous contribution to the global cultural imaginary, other than the fact that it’s dead? Like all good rock stars, this superstar of post-dino extinction is (non)living proof that the old maxim ‘live fast, die young’ can be a great career move. Only the Dodo wasn’t really that fast, being fat and flightless, and it wasn’t really that young either, having been around as a species for roughly half a million years. So we are back to where we started – all that this unfortunate creature really has going for it is the fact that it is deceased, it is no more, it has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet its maker. It has shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It’s not resting, it’s not stunned, nor pining, it is well and truly demised.
No, before you ask, the Dodo was not a species of parrot. In fact, it is generally agreed that it was descended from South East Asian pigeons. So next time your see one of the scruffy looking beasts pottering around your picnic bench, spare a thought for the poor Dodo of Mauritius.
This bizarre bird was apparently dark in colour, plump, foul-tasting and inquisitive – indeed some accounts say, it was fearless of humans. If its unpleasant taste was a stroke of luck in terms of survival, the combination of flightlessness and fearlessness was perhaps the unlucky creature’s downfall. Between the first recorded encounter of humankind with the unhappy avian, when Dutch sailors stumbled across it in 1598, to the last recorded sighting in 1662, this wretched sacks of feathers tumbled into the archives of historical oblivion.
Whether it was the hunting, or more likely the domestic animals such as rats and pigs that the sailor introduced to Mauritius, that ultimately did in the Dodo, we cannot be sure. But by the turn of the 1700s this ill-omened animal was, well, dead as a Dodo so to speak.
In fact it was so dead that it was believed to have been the product of sailors cabin-fevered imaginations and was largely held to have been a mythical beast up until the 19th century emergence of fossil evidence vindicated its existence. After this it was famously popularised in Louis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the Dodo well and truly began its posthumous, meteoric rise skywards in terms of global renown – not bad for a flightless bird whose name means ‘fat-arse’, from the Dutch ‘dodaerse‘ of the same meaning.
Now the bird enjoys planetary fame as Mauritius’ most famous ex-resident. It is the mascot of the island and appears proudly on the coat of arms. So while the Dodo – whose name incidentally is an anagram of the Dutch ‘dood’, meaning dead – perhaps enjoys its non-existence on another plain, you can enjoy the heavenly paradise it left behind! Take a holiday to Mauritius and see the magical land of this not-so-mythical, but very much former resident.