June 7, 2006

Scientists set out to discover how dodo died

By Tim Cocks

PLAINE MAGNIEN, Mauritius (Reuters) - How did the dodo die
out? Scientists in Mauritius launched a project on Wednesday to
discover why the giant bird became extinct.

Most theories blame settlers who found the plump flightless
bird on the Indian Ocean island in the 16th century and began
to hunt it relentlessly.

In an attempt to provide a scientific answer, the Dodo
Research Program plans to study fossils from a mass dodo grave
unearthed in southern Mauritius last October and an adjacent
site, using carbon dating techniques and DNA analysis.

The aim is to understand the dodo's world in the 10,000
years before humans discovered Mauritius, then to determine the
impact human colonizers had when they arrived.

"The research aims to reconstruct the world of the dodo and
determine the factors of its demise," Kenneth Rijsdijk, one of
the project's scientists, told a news conference.

"What did the dodo-ecosystem look like? How did the human
colonists live and how did they use the environment? What was
the effect on the dodo-ecosystem?" said Rijsdijk, adding he
expected the project to cost at least 2 million euros. The dodo
may have already been in decline long before humans turned up,
he said.

Mauritius was first settled by Portugese sailors and
colonized by Dutch settlers in the 17th century, which is when
it died out.

Unaccustomed to predators, the dodo lacked fear of the
human settlers who hunted it and destroyed the forests that
provided its habitat. Passing ships also brought rats, which
ate the bird eggs located in nests on the ground.