D is for Dodo

The Dodo by Hilaire Belloc

The Dodo used to walk around,
And take the sun and air.
The sun yet warms his native ground—
The Dodo is not there!

The voice which used to squawk and squeak
Is now forever dumb—
Yet may you see his bones and beak
All in the Mu-se-um.

The 3-D scan of the Thirioux Dodo skeleton. Leon Claessens and the Mauritius Museums Council.

I was thinking about the fascination children have for dinosaurs and how they can spend hours playing with plastic models and wrap their tongues around ridiculously long names like velociraptor and triceratops. And, I was thinking about extinction and how even the youngest child understands that the dinosaurs existed once upon a time but now only exist as bones in a museum and so I shouldn’t feel that extinction, as a subject, is beyond their grasp. They totally get it.

Illustration Alice in Wonderland and the Dodo
Sir John Tenniel, 1865

There is a curiosity about the dodo. Perhaps they haunt our imaginations because of collective guilt that man’s action caused its extinction.

What did it sound like? How did it really look? Why are we left to reconstruct, from a few bones, this creature that seems so real and touches us so immediately?”

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

The idiom ‘dead as a dodo’ is still used and of course, the dodo is immortalised in children’s literature through Alice in Wonderland. There are plenty of other dodos in children’s literature too and a quick rummage around my library led me to some gems.

Dodo Doo-Doo
by Kaye Umanksy and Korky Paul

Korky Paul illustration dodo

One of my favourite read-alouds – although a bit of a tongue-twister – is a funny, rhyming story about Fred who is going on a dodo hunt. His disbelieving friend tells him that dodos are extinct but Fred begs to differ and points to a steaming pile of dodo doo-doo as evidence. Telling Fred that the doo-doo could come from any type of bird does not deter Fred from taking out his dodo-pipe and blowing a magnificent Paaaarp! which does indeed attract a female dodo.

Cartoon hunter

Though Fred insists she is gentle the dodo charges them and as they attempt to escape a slip on the dodo doo-doo lands them in the dodo’s nest and breaks her one and only egg. Hence their actions contribute to the extinction of the dodo.

The motto? Be very careful where you walk and the damage you can do.

The Last Dodo by Ann and Reg Cartwright

King Glut, as his name implies, is a greedy king who loves to eat eggs. He is tired of eating quail, duck, hen and even swan eggs and wants something different. So, when he reads that a dodo egg has been spotted on a distant island he and his chef go off to find it. They are not deterred by a warning from the Green Dove ship nor by a great storm.

When the greedy king is rescued from the sea by the captain of the Green Dove, the king believes he can trick the captain into taking him directly to the island and the dodo egg.

The captain, the king and the chef all run ashore to find the egg nestled in the warm sand. The greedy king pushes the captain aside and declares the very last dodo egg in the whole world to be his. But, just as he orders his chef to boil some water the egg hatches and out pops a baby dodo. Enchanted, the king declares that the eating of eggs shall be banned! And the dodo shall live in peace and safety on the unknown island.

The Last Dodo is a good, environmental story and Reg Cartwright’s illustration are a delight but it is sadly out of print.

Dodo’s are Forever
by Dick King-Smith

This short chapter book is the story of the dodos encounter with the ‘sea-monkeys’ that is, their disastrous encounter with the sailors who came to their island in AD 1650. Beatrice and Bertie are two dodos very much in love and just as they get engaged they spot a ship on the horizon.

Illustration by David Perkins two dodos watch the sailors
Illustrations by David Perkins

The sailors start to kill the dodos and eat them and the ships’ rats also get a taste for dodo eggs. Soon the island is a carnage of greedy sailors, devilish rats and dodo bones.

Roast Dodo
David Perkins

Fortunately, help is at hand and the ship’s parrot, Sir Francis Drake, devises a plan to take the love birds and their friends to another island where no rats or sailors will find them.

Seeking Refuge
Illustration by David Perkins

Fast forward to AD 2000 and the secret island is still inhabited by dodos. It is a lovely story indeed. It also introduces the idea that it was not only the sailors themselves but what they brought with them that doomed the dodo.

I had to look this up so I read The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen, and although ships rats are not mentioned pigs and monkeys are blamed for the decimation of the dodo. The pigs came ashore with the goats, chickens, cattle and cats that the Portuguese and later the Dutch sailors brought. But the monkeys? Quammen wonders if the Dutch sailors had a taste for monkey, or if a couple of monkey mascots escaped ship or “were intentionally discarded onto Mauritius (like those pet alligators of legend, discarded into the sewers of New York) (270).

The Journey Home
by Frann Preston-Gannon

Illustrated endangered animals in a boat

When the ice starts melting and his food disappears, Polar Bear decides to move. He climbs into a boat and sets sail. He finds a lone panda who watches him from a busy dock and invites him into the boat. As they sail up a river they come across an Orang-utan who tells them the trees are disappearing and so she too climbs into the boat. Next they find an elephant who is trying to hide from people trying to steal his tusks and so the four animals sail further and further away into a terrible storm. Finally they reach an island and find a dodo.

illustrated elephant panda polar bear orang-utan and dodo

The dodo’s advice is to wait until the trees grow back, the ice returns, the cities stop growing and the hunting ends.

polar bear stranded on an island
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

The dodo brings tremendous poignancy to this sad story. There was, of course no tomorrow for him.

The Edwards’ Dodo, one of the most famous paintings of a Dodo specimen, was painted by Roelant Savery in 1626. It is housed at London’s Natural History Museum.
Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I read a little more about the dodo and found that when caught it would cry out and the other dodos would come running to its aid and so would be caught as well. I feel saddened by this, the dodo did not stand a chance at all.

“Amongst other birds were those which men in the Indies call doddaerssen. They were larger than geese but not able to fly; instead of wings they had small flaps, but they could run very fast. One of us would chase them so that they ran towards the other party who then grabbed them; when we had one tightly held by the leg it would cry out, then the others would come to its aid and could be caught as well” (Olearius 1670, Cheke 1987, Wissen 1995)

(18) (PDF) The Dodo’s last island – where did Volkert Evertsz meet the last wild Dodos?. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288838742_The_Dodo%27s_last_island_-_where_did_Volkert_Evertsz_meet_the_last_wild_Dodos[accessed Aug 09 2019].


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