Scientists fly into raptures over flightless Fred
Fri Jun 29, 2007 11:23AM EDT
By Ed Harris
BOIS CHERI, Mauritius – The remains of a dodo found in a cave beneath bamboo and tea plantations in Mauritius offer the best chance yet to learn about the extinct flightless bird, a scientist said on Friday.
The discovery was made earlier this month in the Mauritian highlands but the location was kept secret until the recovery of the skeleton, nicknamed “Fred”, was completed on Friday. Four men guarded the site overnight.
Julian Hume, a paleontologist at Britain’s Natural History Museum, told Reuters the remains were likely to yield excellent DNA and other vital clues, because they were found intact, in isolation, and in a cave.
“The geneticists who want to get their hands on this will be skipping down the street,” he said, after bringing the last of the remains to the surface.
Given the nickname “Fred” after the 65-year-old who found them, the remains should provide the first decent specimens of dodo DNA, he said.
“Then you can work out how it actually got to Mauritius, because it must have originally flown here before evolving into flightlessness and the big, fat bird that we know,” he said.
“We know it’s a giant pigeon,” he added.
It the first discovery of dodo remains away from the coastal regions, suggesting that the bird, extinct since the 17th century, lived all over the Indian Ocean island, he said.
Hume said the dodo was almost certainly finished off by animals introduced by Europeans about 400 years ago. Theories that it was hunted to extinction by the Dutch were “total nonsense”, he said, adding that the remains were highly fragile.
“If you try and pick it up, it just falls apart,” he said. “You won’t see a mounted, beautiful thing from this.