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Dodo birds and cockroaches
When I was young, my stepfather took us to the island of Mauritius. We ended up spending three years on that tiny island which, in the grander scheme of things, appeared as a micro speck on the lens of the iridescent waters of the Indian Ocean. One of the first things that I noticed about Mauritius was that despite its small size, it was home to a rich diversity of interesting animals.
Mauritius is also famous for the Dodo, a now extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island.
While historically speaking the Dodo was thought to have been fat and clumsy, it is now considered to have been well-adapted to the Mauritian ecosystem. The Dodo was a strange-looking creature sporting a black, yellow and green beak, a brownish-grey plumage, yellow feet, a tuft of tail feathers, and a grey, naked head. The first recorded mention of the Dodo bird came from Dutch sailors in 1598. Subsequently, the Dodo was hunted by sailors as well as invasive species at the same time its habitat was being destroyed.
The last accepted sighting of the Dodo was in 1662. Some even considered the bird’s existence to be a myth.
However, in the 19th century, research was conducted on the remains of four Dodo specimens that were taken to Europe in the early 17th century. The extinction of the Dodo within less than a century following its discovery shed the spotlight on a serious problem that was previously unrecognised. That is, the involvement of humans in the disappearance of an entire species. In popular culture, the Dodo bird became a fixture in English author Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a tale that is possibly one of the best renditions of anthropomorphic animal behaviour of the last 150 years.
Mauritius is also home to another interesting creature – the cockroach.
I was just 10 years old when I made my first trip to Port Louis Harbour, the main seaport of Mauritius. It was during the early evening when my mother and I went for a walk around the harbour to see all the American ships that had just docked. As we walked the harbour, there was no one around. But, against the backdrop of the gentle ocean tide of the Mauritian sandy shores, I heard a crackling sound that appeared to emanate from underground.
The harbour was dimly lit, but, when I looked carefully, I could see hundreds of crawling cockroaches, some of them as long and as wide as the thumb of a grown man! And as they scurried across the floor while the ‘humans’ weren’t looking, the sound of their ‘crackling’ set the stage for what appeared to be a scene from a modern apocalyptic nuclear holocaust sci-fi movie where only insects survived! I later learned that cockroaches, believe it or not, can survive a nuclear war and have lived alongside humans for countless millennia. Helen Fenton – Content Director, My Animal Trivia – 2020