You have to feel sorry for the subject of today’s Wednesday Word Tangle.
To begin with he’s dead, along with his entire species. Not only that, but every time we use his name, we’re calling him a simpleton.
If human beings hadn’t already made the chubby flightless pigeon the
extinct, the birds would have developed a serious complex by now.
Just imagine it …
You’ve got a pretty good life. You live on the heavenly island of Mauritius, spend all day waddling on the golden sands, stretching your claws in the warm ocean. There’s more fruit than you could ever shove down your gullet. You don’t even bother to fly anymore – what’s the point when all the food you need just drops off the trees at your feet and the island has no large predators to threaten you?
Yes, ife’s pretty damn glorious.
Then some big wooden floaty things arrive from over the sea and bring some really grumpy, hungry bipeds. You start to hear stories of missing Dodos, you realise you’ve got some friends you haven’t heard from in a while. But you don’t worry too much because the sun is shining and fruit’s falling from the trees.
Then your Nan vanishes. And your mate Dennis. And his missus Doreen.
Then one day, one of these bipeds is chasing you along the beautiful, warm sands, the sun reflecting from his shiny metal hat, and you try to run but your legs are stumpy, only fit for waddling on the beach and you flap what’s left of your wings but they’re too weak and you’re too heavy and you run and run and there’s a pop-pop sound and a pain in your back and you fall and the biped is standing over you looking really hungry and you hear the waves lapping the sand and imagine you could fly away like the big birds circling over your head and you close your eyes and …
Yes, the dodo had a cushy life until it encountered humans. Within 180 years of the Portuguese arriving on the island, it had been eaten to death not only by humans but also by pigs. Oh, and rats and monkeys ate their eggs – all of these animals introduced to Mauritius by Europeans, of course.
And it was the Portuguese who named them idiots, calling them doudo because they lived on the ground and were too slow to escape the hunt.
Apparently they weren’t as chubby as we imagine them, either – early drawings were all of captive, overfed birds and it’s likely the wild ones were slimmer. That’s what an all fruit diet will do for you.
On an interesting – if disturbing – side note, scientists recently noticed that certain species of tree on Mauritius were not regenerating and that the only extant examples were over 300 years old. You see, the trees’ seeds only became active after passing through a dodo gut. No dodo to eat the seed – no new trees. Read more here.
So, the Dodo’s story is a real cautionary tale to us humans.
Make one species extinct and we risk the future of others.
Now who’s the doudo?
Disturbingly, John Tenniel included hands in his dodo illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Take a look here where you’ll find more dodo facts.
Thanks to Kat for the original W4W.