While travelling, we often come across people who have no clue where Mauritius is. However, they all seem to have heard about the legendary dodo! Yes, the bird did exist and no, it isn’t a myth, but did you know that the dodo was was found in only one place in the entire world? And that place happens to be Mauritius! If you were wondering why you saw so many references to the dodo while visiting the island, it’s because we are all pretty proud of that fact. If you want to know more about the Dodo Mauritius, make sure you check out the Mauritius Natural History Museum, located in Port-Louis.
Mauritius was formed as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, creating the perfect environment for evolution of distinct species that were perfectly adapted to their terrain. Of these species was the dodo, which was sadly driven to extinction as a result of hunting and habitat loss in the 1600s.
The dodo, bigger than a turkey, weighed about 23 kg (about 50 pounds). It had blue-gray plumage, a big head, a 23-cm (9-inch) blackish bill with reddish sheath forming the hooked tip, small useless wings, stout yellow legs, and a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear end. The Réunion solitaire may have been a white version of the dodo. Thus, described as being a plump bird, it was an easy prey to predators and its meat was described as being delicious- which speeded up its extinction.
The dodo, named from the Dutch for ’round arse’, was first witnessed by Dutch sailors in the late 1600s and its last sighting was in 1861. The dodo is a symbol of man’s destruction but also a sign of stupidity, thus the expression, “dead as a dodo.” This three-foot tall flightless bird lived on fruit and nested on the ground, was entirely fearless of humans, and took advantage of the island’s lack of predators.
However, it was not humans as prey that destroyed the dodo – in fact the Portuguese settler called it walgvogel(‘ghastly bird’) because however it was cooked, its meat was as tough as boots and foul (rather than fowl) tasting. It was other wildlife on Mauritius that led to its downfall – principally the alien species that the Europeans brought with them – pigs, rats, and monkeys.
Today, Mauritians are more respectful of this strange, inflated pigeon of a bird and respect its legacy. A rampant dodo appears on the Mauritian coat of arms and Mauritians know the dodo mean the tourist dollar. In the international airport’s duty-free shop you’ll find wooden dodos, plaster dodos, fluffy toy dodos, and gem-studded gold dodos.
No complete bird exists, although several skeletons and reconstructions are in museums around the world, and a dodo egg is on display at the East London Museum in South Africa. Victorian scientists were fascinated by the story of the bird and went to great lengths to investigate its history. They made a reconstruction of a skeleton from a pile of old bones, which can be viewed in the Natural History Museum, a crumbling colonial building in Jardin de la Compagnie, Port Louis. Here you will also find an impressive life-size mock-up of the entire bird, which is a similar size to a turkey and sits inside a dusty cabinet.
The dodo bird might be extinct, but there’s lots of evidence that it once existed here. It’s a major theme throughout the island. From souvenirs and tchotchkes, to postage stamps, to matchboxes, to the Flying Dodo Brewing Company, and even the Mauritius Coat of Arms, there are iconic reminders everywhere of what once was. Still looking for a dodo on velvet to bring back as a souvenir.