December 24, 2005

Preserved remains of dodos found in Mauritius

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A mass grave of dodos, the famous flightless bird whose name became synonymous with stupidity, has been uncovered in Mauritius, scientists said.

The rare find will enable researchers to discover more about what happened to the bird, native to the Indian Ocean Island, which became extinct in the late 17th century.

Scientists from the Dutch Natural History Museum in Leiden said the remains were at least 2,000 years old.

"This new find will allow for the first scientific research into and reconstruction of the world in which the dodo lived, before Western man landed on Mauritius and wiped out the species," said a statement from the museum.

The dodo was discovered by Portuguese sailors in the late 16th century. Its lack of fear of humans, its plump size estimated at about 20 kg (44 pounds) and its inability to fly meant the bird became extinct by about 1680.

Its name is similar to the Portuguese word for fool.

The last time dodo remains were discovered was in 1920. The latest find by Dutch and Mauritius scientists was made in October in a swampy area in the southeast of the island.

"The discovery yielded several dodo bones, including remains of dodo chicks and a very rare part of a bird's peak, only a few of which exist in the entire world," the statement said.

The grave is expected to include dozens of dodo skeletons, which are very rare and are estimated to be worth millions of dollars, said Dutch geologist Kenneth Rijsdijk who helped to find the site.

"A single bone can yield thousands of dollars. It's a massive site and may very well contain skeletons of dozens of dodos," he said.