Beautifully preserved dodo remains (Raphus cucullatus ) have been found in situ on Mauritius for the first time.
The finds include rare items such as a beak and delicate bones as well as the remains of giant tortoises, other extinct birds and reptiles and plant remains. The site, in the Mare aux Songes marshland, is likely to reveal much about what life on the island was like before man's arrival.
'The discovery is of huge importance and will give us a new understanding of how dodos lived,' said the Natural History Museum zoologist Julian Hume. 'For the first time we will be able to answer questions like how many dodos lived on the island and what did they eat? Young dodo remains may also reveal how they bred and what kind of parents they might have been.'
Dodos became extinct on Mauritius during the 1680s, only 80 years after man discovered the island. Although sailors may have eaten some they are believed to have become extinct because of introduced predators and habitat destruction. Before humans exploited the area, the Mare aux Songes would have been a dry coastal forest. The new discovery will help us understand more about extinction events on Mauritius and other oceanic islands where there are little or no records of what lived there before man's intervention.
Most of our knowledge about dodos stems from a previous discovery of the remains of over 300 individuals in the same marshland in 1865, but a combination of crude excavation techniques together with contamination of the deposit by the remains of introduced animals makes it impossible to judge whether they had died slowly over time or altogether in a mass extinction event - possibly caused by humans. The new site is likely to answer many questions that have remained unanswered for 140 years.
Finding the site is only the first stage of the project. A large field campaign involving the MTMD (the site's owners), Mauritian Museums Council, Mauritian Sugar Research Industry Research Institute, Natural History Museum, London and Naturalis, Leiden will commence next year.
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