What Really Happened to the Dodo

The word “dodo” has long been associated with stupidity. This is because of the reputation of the bird with the same name. For centuries, people believed that this bird became extinct because it was unintelligent. But this is not the case at all.

The dodo was a flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius. Its population rapidly declined after European (mainly Dutch) sailors first settled on the island. Most people still believe that the birds were easily hunted to extinction because they would walk right up to a machete-wielding human. They even let the sailors pick them up, which seems like really stupid behavior for a wild animal.

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While it is true that these Dutch sailors killed many of these birds for meat, it is not true that they were able to do so due to the animal’s lack of intelligence. The birds were trusting of the humans because they had no natural predators on the island. They were simply curious and had no instinctual reason to be fearful. Their ungainly walk probably also aided their easy capture by hungry sailors and settlers.

Even though some of the dodo birds were killed by humans for meat, this was not the main cause of their extinction. Rather, it was the animals that were brought on the ships with the people that caused the extermination of the species.

The Europeans brought pigs, cats, and rats with them on their ships, none of which had ever been seen on Mauritius before. They brought the pigs to use as a meat source and then released them on the island to forage for food. Unfortunately, one of their food sources turned out to be dodo eggs, which the birds laid in unprotected nests on the ground. Rats, which lived on every ship in those days, also developed a taste for dodo chicks. And cats, which were brought on board to control the rat population, roamed the island killing and eating the birds and their chicks.

Since the dodo only lays one egg per season, they did not stand a chance from the onslaught of new non-native species that were invading their island. Even though dodos began adapting their behavior and became wary of humans, they were no match to the marauding animals brought by the settlers. Within 80 years after humans first settled Mauritius, the dodo was extinct.

The fact that the birds managed to adapt their behavior towards human by avoiding them and even fighting back with their large beaks proves that they were not unintelligent animals. Some even began moving their nests to more remote areas, but the cats and rats could still reach them. If humans had been their only predator, we might still have them today. But the large numbers of invasive species brought to this tiny, 800 square mile island simply overwhelmed them.

So the next time someone uses the word “dodo” as a derogatory term, feel free to correct them on the intelligence of this curious bird.

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