Why dodo birds became extinct, new research

This 8 November 2019 video says about itself:

Scientists Finally Know The Real Reason Dodo Birds Went Extinct

If there’s one thing most people know about the dodo bird, it’s that they were dumb. If they had been human, they would have been the kind of person who changes pants while driving. Yes, legend has it, this creature was only really ever a danger to itself, a true poster child for The Darwin Awards…at least, that’s the story we’ve been fed.

But is it true?

Turns out, the whole story that the dumb dodo got itself hunted to extinction by being so stupid may have been a big load of doodoo.

Leon Claessens, Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution at the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, believes the Dutch sailors who first encountered the bird in 1598 didn’t actually hunt the birds to extinction, though the sailors likely had an indirect role in the demise of the species.

Previously, it was believed the birds were fat, and were hunted for food. But in the dense jungles of their native Mauritius, the bird would have been much leaner than previously thought, and therefore, not as appetizing of a meal. Further, these jungles would have also made it much harder for the few hundred sailors to catch the birds, regardless of how unafraid the dodos were of human beings.

Claessens believes the real problem was the rats and other animals that would have landed with the sailors. These animals would have been able to multiply quickly in an unrestricted habitat, and would have feasted on dodo eggs and outcompeted them for food, a double-extinction whammy.

And then the triple whammy hit: rapid habitat loss.

The island of Mauritius was not initially considered very valuable; just a place for ships to stop over. Some even thought the island was cursed due to a large amount of shipwrecks in the area.

That all changed when the Dutch realized they could export the island’s ebony wood for sale, which became the island’s primary economic activity. Not long after, settlers were turning the once-wild island into a big agricultural plantation, leading to heavy deforestation and loss of native plant species. The forest that provided natural protection for the dodo bird gave way to sugar cane fields, making the birds oversized sitting ducks for any predator who came along, as the dodos literally had no fight or flight reflex.

Lack of flight also made dodos ill-suited to surviving natural disasters. Evidence has been found that even before human settlement, many of the birds died in flash floods brought on by cyclones. Once they lost the natural protection of their sheltered forests, they became even more vulnerable.

The entry for “dodo” in the Oxford English Dictionary describes something that is “no longer effective, valid, or interesting,” and the origin of the word comes from the Portuguese doudou, translating to “simpleton”. It’s a sad legacy for what was once a beautiful, totally innocent creature.

Beyond their reputation for stupidity, dodos are a symbol of how quickly and profoundly humans can impact an environment and drive a species to extinction. Until we can clone them, dodos are gone forever, and the best thing we can do about it is to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.

It only took a hundred years to wipe out the dodo, and while exact dates of extinction vary, most believe the dodo was gone by the 1660s, with other reports claiming they lasted on nearby islands until the 1690s. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter much, because either way the bird, and just about every trace of it, is gone forever. All we’ve got are a few records and sketches from sailors, and one or two shoddily stuffed birds in museums.

We’re hardly even sure what color they were. Most paintings from the time show dodos with white feathers, but firsthand accounts describe them with gray to black plumage. Heck, we didn’t even know they had kneecaps until 2014, after a 3D scan of the last remaining skeleton revealed them.

So have we learned our lesson? Not yet, it seems: in another hundred years, it’s estimated that 25 percent of all bird species will be extinct in the wild unless we take big steps to clean up our act.

If not, we’ll be the real dodos.

Dodo killed by gun, new research shows

This video from England says about itself:

20 April 2018

The famous Oxford Dodo died after being shot, according to breakthrough research by Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WMG at the University of Warwick.

Read more here.

From the University of Warwick in England:

Dodo‘s violent death revealed

April 21, 2018

The famous Oxford Dodo died after being shot in the back of the head, according to breakthrough research by Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WMG at the University of Warwick.

Using revolutionary forensic scanning technology and world-class expertise, researchers have discovered surprising evidence that the Oxford Dodo was shot in the neck and back of the head with a shotgun.

The significant and unexpected findings, made by Professor Paul Smith, director of the Museum of Natural History, and Professor Mark Williams from WMG at the University of Warwick, only became apparent when mysterious particles were found in the specimen during scans carried out to help analyse its anatomy.

Subsequent analysis of the material and size of the particles revealed that they are lead shot pellets, typically used to hunt wildfowl during the 17th century.

The findings cast doubt on the popular theory that the Oxford Dodo is the remains of a bird kept alive in a townhouse in 17th-century London.

Held at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Oxford Dodo represents the most complete remains of a dodo collected as a living bird — the head and a foot — and the only surviving soft tissue anywhere in the world.

The researchers have shown that this famous specimen was shot in the back of the head and the neck, and that the shot did not penetrate its skull — which is now revealed to be very thick.

To conduct this research, the Dodo remains were securely transferred from Oxford to Professor Williams’ state-of-the-art scanning laboratory at WMG, where he used CT scanning technology and specialist 3D analysis software to analyse the bird’s skull and create a three-dimensional digital replica of it.

Professor Williams and his team gained an unprecedented level of insight to the precious dodo remains, looking inside the skull of the bird and discovering crucial information about its anatomy, as well as how it lived and died.

The Oxford Dodo originally came to the University of Oxford as part of the Tradescant Collection of specimens and artefacts compiled by father and son John Tradescant in London in the 17th century. CT scanning technology allowed researchers to see inside the famous specimen for the first time, revealing details without disturbing the remains or taking them apart.

Professor Paul Smith, Director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History, commented: “The Oxford Dodo is an important specimen for biology, and because of its connections with Lewis Carroll it is of great cultural significance too. The new findings reveal an unexpected part of history of this specimen as we thought the bird had come to the museum after being displayed as a live specimen in London.”

The researchers at WMG produced detailed scans of the dodo remains, and created a 3D model of the bird, which was analysed by the researchers at Oxford, who were able to confirm the findings.

The results of three years of collaborative research, these findings deliver ground-breaking fresh knowledge about this famous but mysterious creature that has been extinct since the mid-17th century.

Dodos were endemic to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The first European accounts of the bird were made by Dutch explorers in 1601, after they rediscovered the island in 1598. The last living bird was sighted in 1662, and the dodo has subsequently become an icon of human-caused extinction.

Professor Mark Williams, leader of the Product Evaluation Technologies and Metrology Research group at WMG, University of Warwick, commented: “When we were first asked to scan the Dodo, we were hoping to study its anatomy and shed some new light on how it existed. In our wildest dreams, we never expected to find what we did.

“Although the results were initially shocking, it was exciting to be able to reveal such an important part of the story in the life of the world’s most famous extinct bird. It just goes to show that when you are carrying out investigative research, you never quite know what you are going to find.”

Dr Jay Warnett, Assistant Professor at WMG, commented: “At its core, the technology is the same as what is used in medical X-ray CT scanning. But because we weren’t limited by dose (because we were scanning an inanimate object rather than a person), it meant we were able to get a much higher resolution.

“Because of this higher resolution — going down to a fraction of the size of a human hair — this meant that we had a much bigger data challenge.”

Professor Mark Williams has employed the same digital forensics techniques to provide crucial evidence in over sixty major police trials, and to conduct crucial automotive research.

He has also used it to reveal long-lost details of other landmark historical and archaeological artefacts — providing answers that are only possible through using this pioneering scanning technology at WMG.

Bringing back pink pigeons, parakeets in Mauritius

This 2009 video from Iowa in the USA is called Mauritius Pink Pigeon at the Blank Park Zoo.

From BirdLife:

5 Sep 2017

Reintroducing the pink pigeon and echo parakeet in Mauritius

By Jean Hugues Gardenne and Obaka Torto

Re-introducing birds to suitable habitats where species have gone extinct is often a very important and sometimes a last resort to sustain the survival of some threatened Mauritian bird species. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), a BirdLife International Partner in Mauritius, has a long and successful track record of exploiting bird translocation opportunities at any given time.

In recent years, MWF has worked with other partners in the country like the National Parks and Conservation Service of the Ministry of Agro Industry, the CIEL Group, the United Nation’s Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, HSBC, and Chester Zoo (UK), to translocate several Mauritian birds, including the Pink Pigeon, Echo Parakeet, Cuckoo Shrike and Paradise Flycatcher from the Black River Gorges National Park in the south west to the east of the island, in Ferney Valley (Bambous Mountains). This strategy has helped to create new subpopulations and increased the total population of some bird species, as it contributes to their distribution, saves them from extinction and loss of genetic diversity.

In the last couple of years, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has worked tirelessly to increase the population of two rare species of birds found in the island nation and prevented them from extinction. The two species are the Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques) and the Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) that were already disappearing. Pink Pigeons are a distinctive species of birds with pale pink body, brown wings and a broad rusty-brown tail. They are known to form long-term pairs and are capable of breeding at any time of the year. These beautiful birds that feed on flowers, leaves and fruits of native and exotic trees are endemic to Mauritius. Recently, Mauritius was ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as having the third most endangered flora in the world – and this poses a major threat to the already declining birds that largely depend on plants for survival. Just like the pink pigeon, the echo parakeet is a parrot endemic to Mauritius. It is the only surviving parrot of the Mascarene Islands as all others have become extinct.

In order to prevent the bird species from disappearing, MWF decided to translocate them. The translocation of the echo parakeet started in February 2015 and the pink pigeon in December 2016. By July 2017, 73 echo parakeets and 30 pink pigeons have been released. The birds are supported by close monitoring since all individuals are identifiable from colour and ID rings, supplementary feeding, predator control, disease control and habitat restoration.

MWF was confident that the birds would breed in future. However, it was amazing when a young un-ringed echo parakeet turned up at the release aviaries in the Ferney Valley in March 2017. Two months later in June 2017, an un-ringed young pink pigeon was sighted with his parents on the same valley. This is the first time that the two birds have bred in the Bambous Mountains in over a century. The confirmed breeding of birds is a yardstick of success and shows that the area is suitable for these birds and is favourably managed. With these young birds of the two species being seen in Ferney Valley, it is obvious that the translocations are a success and hopes are high that many more shall be sighted in the near future.

Endangered Mascarene petrel discoveries

This video says about itself:

26 May 2013

The Mascarene Petrel is breeding on Round Island (Mauritius).

From BirdLife:

Critically endangered Mascarene Petrel discovered at sea and unique image captured of bird with its egg

By Adrian Long, Thu, 04/09/2014 – 00:01

An expedition to find the Critically Endangered Mascarene Petrel at sea has returned with new information on one of the world’s least-known seabirds. Incredibly they have photographed a female bird where the egg is an obvious protrusion in the contour of her underbody.

This is thought to be the first record of any bird photographed in flight with an obvious egg inside the body.

Author Hadoram Shirihai said: “Against the background of a pinkish-orange sunset, with Réunion Island in the distance, I spotted a petrel through my camera’s viewfinder. Almost immediately I saw the outline of an egg, a huge bump at its belly.  I called out to the other expedition members – “she has an egg, she has an egg…”. She flew close to the boat which gave me the unique chance to photograph her just before the sun set. It was a magical moment, and to think that in less than an hour she would probably lay her egg and contribute to the future survival of this threatened species.”

Fellow author Tony Pym said: “These are first photos of Mascarene Petrel taken at sea. Up until now the only shots are of grounded birds, brought down due to artificial lighting on Réunion, the breeding island.”

Author Vincent Bretagnolle: “With some estimates of only a few dozen breeding pairs of Mascarene Petrel our at-sea records suggest there are more individuals than thought, and that unknown colonies somewhere on the island have ensured the future of this species, at least for now.”

Roger Safford from BirdLife International said: “This exciting discovery provides important information on a very poorly known and globally threatened seabird. The finders are to be congratulated on their dedication. Their discovery was no accident, combining meticulous planning and research.”

Mascarene Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International on the IUCN Red List because it is assumed to have an extremely small breeding population and to be undergoing a continuing decline owing to predation and light-induced mortality.

“For most Critically Endangered species like Mascarene Petrel there is still hope for their survival,” added Safford, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme Manager. “BirdLife and its partners are working to save the world’s most threatened species from extinction. With the right conservation action, often underpinned by sound science, we have improved the populations and fortunes of many species.“

“Mascarene Petrel is set to benefit from direct conservation action on Réunion. The Parc national de La Réunion authorities have been awarded funds from EU LIFE+ this year to reduce threats and undertake conservation actions for the petrel.  This will involve working on the ground with local conservation organisations such as SEOR (Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de La Réunion).”

The sighting has given new insight into the timing of the breeding season of the species which will help with future searches for its breeding grounds on Réunion Island, the only known place for the species in the world.

The search for the elusive petrel is described in a paper in the latest Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club. Thirty-three Mascarene Petrels were observed, and 12 of them photographed. The species’ flight, behaviour and detailed comparison to other species are also described for the first time.

Good seabird news from Mauritius

This video from Australia is called White-tailed tropic bird release; long trip [from Frankston to Pambula]; how far will you go?

From Wildlife Extra:

Success in Mauritius’ attempts to save seabird breeding populations on its islands

January 2014: Moves to protect breeding seabirds on the Mauritian offshore islands, especially Round Island and Serpent Island, are gaining momentum. These islands play an important role in supporting some of the largest breeding colonies in the Indian Ocean and an ongoing project to halt declines in numbers is showing signs of success.

The Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the representatives of BirdLife in Mauritius, started a Seabird Translocation Project in 2009, with the aim of restoring a lost seabird community on Ile aux Aigrettes and to learn as much as possible about the birds in the process. Translocations are a major tool in ensuring the survival of threatened species worldwide.

With the project now in its third season, 280 seabirds of five different species have been released to new, safe sites with help from the National Coast Guard and the National Parks and Conservation Service. In 2013 releases of 17 common noddies and 21 sooty terns ran smoothly, with all but a single bird fledging successfully. Harvested nestlings were translocated from Serpent Island to a cordoned off area on Ile aux Aigrettes. The birds were fed twice a day on communal feed trays after the initial weeks of individual hand-feeding, and they remained around the release site for some weeks after fledging, returning to the island to be fed for a time before gradually spending extended periods out at sea.

This is the first time, as far as is known, that these species have been translocated or hand-reared in any numbers, so any information gained during this trial is of great importance. The mix of different seabird species shows diverse behavioural, nesting and feeding requirements. Information on fledging times, growth and provisioning rates, and also fledgling survival, is adding to scientists’ current knowledge on seabirds.

There have also been recent helicopter transfers of around 30 tropicbirds from Round Island to Ile aux Aigrettes. Nestlings were harvested around two to three weeks before fledging and were hand-reared on a diet of fish, squid and octopus. White-tailed tropicbirds have been seen flying frequently over the island, and wedge-tailed shearwaters have been heard calling near release sites. These are all encouraging signs, and MWF hopes to find returning birds on the island over the coming seasons. These translocations demonstrate MWF’s long-term commitment to seabird and island restoration and will lay the groundwork for more challenging seabird restoration work in the future, such as the establishment of some rarer seabirds, including the Round Island petrel and the red-footed booby.

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