Flight Of The Dodo
By Ed Lusch
has heard of the Dodo, that ungainly, stupid-looking flightless bird
which became extinct hundreds of years ago. Next to the dinosaurs, the
Dodo is the most famous animal to have turned out the lights. We remember
its existence because we (Man) caused its disappearance.
Found only on the island of Mauritius,
the last eyewitness account of living Dodos took place in 1662. Several
surviving birds were captured and eaten by stranded Dutch mariners,
but after that, no Dodos were ever seen alive again.
A combination of insidious factors doomed
the Dodo. Dutch and Portuguese sailors killed the bird, boiled it, smoked
it, pickled it and otherwise roasted it to rareness. Once Dodos became
rare, they were no longer worth the trouble of hunting. Man introduced
animals such as pigs, monkeys, and cats, ate the remaining Dodo eggs
and chicks, sealing the birds fate. As renowned science writer
David Quammen put it, The toilet bowl of its destiny had been
The Dodo would never plod about the island
again. But, did other plant or animal species get flushed down their
toilet bowl of destiny as a result of the Dodos inglorious
As mentioned in Octobers column,
There But For the Grace of God, species do not die alone.
The inter-dependence of flora and fauna dictates that no species is
Biologists do not know what other plants
or animals went down for the count with, or shortly after, the KO of
the Dodo. But the process of the ripple or domino affect of extinction
as applied to the Dodo could have looked something like this:
Dodo guano was the primary food source of the Mauritius fecal beetle.
Without Dodo doodoo, the fecal beetles population plunged. Its
main predator, the Mauritius Stinky Skink, fed almost exclusively on
the Fecal Beetle and with its meal ticket now scarce, the Stinky Skink
population plummeted precipitously. A small endemic Island Hawk needed
the Stinky Skink as a food source and for the calcium contained in the
lizards bones which provided the shell hardness of its eggs. The
hawk began laying soft-shelled eggs, which broke under the weight of
the incubating female and no future hawk generations survived.
These three island dwellers, the Fecal
Beetle, Stinky Skink and Island Hawk, while not directly decimated by
the loss of the Dodo, became rare because of it: rareness is the prelude
to extinction. Of course, these are highly simplified examples of species
interdependence and we dont have to stop at the hawk.
What if a certain fruit, say the red Mauritius
apple, favored by the Dodo had to pass through the Dodos gut before
it could germinate? And no other animal on the island could provide
this symbiotic relationship. Of course, the adult trees live on until
death, but with no seed germinationno offspringand once
again we hear the toilet flushing. With the loss of animal and plant
diversity, the island of Mauritius becomes ecologically impoverished.
Regardless of whether or not the above
imagined scenario is close to the mark or not, the island in reality
has become impoverished and continues to lose its Eco-integrity.
When, if ever, does this seepage of floral and faunal erosion subside?
No one knows. The death of the Dodoone domino tumbled, if you
willmay have been the beginning of the zoological collapse of
Mauritius Island. Is this simply an isolated event, or is the Dodo a
symbol of something more ominously persuasive than a big, dumb, flightless