11 January 2015

Dodo

The dodo (right) sketched by Sir Thomas Herbert in 1634
In the early seventeenth century, the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean had very few human inhabitants. However, it had a rich birdlife and several species were unique to the island - including a very large, flightless member of the pigeon family which occupied some of the coastal forest areas. Somehow it became known as the "dodo". The origins of that name are uncertain.

In an age when European ships were fanning out around the world - mostly in search of new  sources of wealth - Mauritius became a a staging post - a remote island where sailors could rest for a while and replenish their supplies of fresh water. Legend has it that it was these sailors of the seventeenth century who were responsible for the extinction of the dodo though that assumption is unproven. Some dodos were certainly eaten and some were captured. There is evidence that one live bird was even brought back to London for the interest of the curious. Here's Sir Hamon L'Estrange remembering a viewing in 1638 "It was kept in a chamber, and was a great fowle somewhat bigger than the largest Turkey cock, and so legged and footed, but stouter and thicker and of more erect shape, coloured before like the breast of a young cock fesan, and on the back of a dunn or dearc colour. The keeper called it a Dodo..."
Turned into a figure of fun

The first recorded European sighting of a dodo happened in 1598 following a visit to Mauritius by Dutch seamen. The last known sighting was just sixty four years later. So in the length of a human life, a unique and precious creature had vanished forever.

It wasn't the most beautiful of birds - quite ugly and cumbersome in fact - as it waddled around the island's green coastal forests for many hundreds of years - safe from predators. When reproducing, it is thought that it laid single egg in ground nests. An adult dodo stood a metre tall and could weigh up to fifty pounds. It fed on fallen fruit and nuts.

In a children's book of verse from 1896, Hilaire Belloc wrote:-

The Dodo used to walk around,
And take the sun and air.
The sun yet warms his native ground –
The Dodo is not there!

The voice which used to squawk and squeak
Is now for ever dumb –
Yet may you see his bones and beak
All in the Mu-se-um.

It was around that time here in Britain that the phrase "as  dead as a dodo" first appeared in a political context following the bird's earlier popularisation by Lewis Caroll in "Alice in Wonderland" (1865). However, to me that phrase "as dead as a dodo" has now morphed into an accusation regarding mankind's thoughtless elimination of a long list of wonderful creatures. It was here but now it is gone and as the world's population increases yet more of our immediate neighbours from the animal world will surely and tragically follow the dodo into the history of what's been lost.

14 comments:

  1. Just look at the wealth these early traders brought back to our shores. They created wealth beyond ken. They created it for the privileged. The food on those ships was awful. The poor buggers were slave labour. A few made a profit but the profit was to the crown. As now, the crown tries to make sure her subjects are given just enough not to revolt but they are considered a revolting necessity. I suggest she and her ilk are dodos.
    One day I will recount my two run ins with the Right Charlie.

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    1. PS. This may have changed.
      To this day a merchant seaman can be asked to assist the Royal Navy but the moment his ship is sunk he is no longer paid. In theory we could if successful in the salvage of a RN vessel request expenses. I never heard that they were granted.
      Prince Harry is doing his best for injured folk who were maimed supporting Grannies delusions but he should do more. He is the future not the Willy and Katey irrelevance. Okay he is a bit brash and waves his willy about but a male willy is not attractive and Katie's tits aren't up to much.

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    2. The privileged needed all that wealth to fund their estates and their lavish lifestyles. I look forward to your account of meetings with Prince Charles. I understand he has also written about these challenging meetings in a "Country Life" article titled "The Monstrous Carbuncle".

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    3. Sorry. I have used your blog. I know you are a Royalist. Harry is but maybe once removed. It is pissing down here. I hope it is in Immbalmoral. Ijust felt the need to wrote things.

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    4. A minibus load of beefeaters have been dispatched to collect you and transport you forthwith to The Tower of London. They have their big choppers with them so don't struggle.

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  2. No reason not to post it now.
    He was to open a bridge in South Harris.
    Due to horrendous winds I delayed the centre span lift. I got messages saying it has to be done as Charlie is coming. I thought that will be a first.
    The bridge was a day late not my fault it was blowing silly numbers. He got choppered in to my little tug boat. It was hilarious.
    He said don't you realise I'm busy. I was polite and tried to explain how busy I had been. You are only a little man. I am annoyed. I told him to fuck off. He just went. His minders said I had over stepped the mark. I told them to fuck off as my best mate was called Mark.
    No way do I risk the barge crew the tug crews anchoring it but I am a servant to the crown. If it shall be it will be I'll kill you first.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that tale Ade. You should develop it into a blogpost in its own right.I bet Charles can't wait for his coronation so that he can invite you to be one of his trusty page boys. You'll look nice in buckled shoes with maroon knickerbockers and a white ruff.

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  4. It's such a terrible shame when a creature goes extinct. There was actually once a parrot species native to the area where I live--the Carolina Parakeet-- a beautiful green and yellow bird. It was the most northern ranging of the New World parrots.

    The last one died in a zoo at the turn of the 20th century. :(

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    1. The American travel writer Bill Bryson wrote about the demise of the carrier pigeon. In the seventeenth century there were clouds of them above east coast America. Countless birds. Now they have all gone. Every single one.

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    2. I love Bill Bryson. And the demise of the carrier pigeon is another tragedy.

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  5. The sad story of the Dodo is exemplary for many others, and sadly, people have not really learned that much since, in spite of governments coming up with all sorts of laws and regulations and experts giving warnings all the time.

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    1. The way it's going, some of our precious creatures will only exist within the confines of zoos and safari parks.

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