The first almost complete skeleton of a dodo to come up for sale in almost 100 years has just been sold at auction in the U.K. With a total price GBP336,100 (US$418,122), someone somewhere has perhaps an even deeper interest in poultry, or deeper pockets, than either you or I.
The dodo lived on the once uninhabited island of Mauritius. It was first recorded by Dutch sailors in 1698, but within 80 years of contact with humans and other predatory species, the bird had become extinct.
Today, there is thought to be only one dodo skeleton made up from the bones of a single bird. All others, and there are only a dozen or so that are relatively complete, are made up from bones that belonged to several individuals.
The just-sold skeleton came from a private collector who, over decades, purchased bones from private collections and auctions. The collector began buying bones in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was only at the start of this century that he realized he had a complete skeleton. How did he manage to do it?
A great number of dodo bones were shipped to London in the 19th century to be sold at auction. Over time, most have passed into museums, but some remain in private hands.
The auctioneers note that another complete skeleton is unlikely to come up for sale, and no newly discovered bones can be sold after a ban by the Mauritian government. But the way this particular skeleton was put together shows that, with time and patience, bones are available for purchase.
Feeding the world
But how could an extinct bird feed the world?
Part of the dodo’s downfall was that it had no fear of predators, including man, so if it were around today, it should be relatively docile, which from a rearing point of view is favorable. And just as the bird was not picky about the company it kept, neither was it a fussy eater, so developing dodo diets should not be an issue for the feed industry.
The bird stood at almost one meter tall and it has been suggested that it weighed between 10 and 20 kg, significantly more than today’s broiler, and while slightly shorter than a turkey, it was probably heavier.
Additionally, despite the bird’s geographical isolation, studies have found the dodo was related to many of today’s bird species.
There was talk in 2007, after discovery of a well-preserved skeleton in Mauritius, that it may be possible to re-establish dodos, however little is thought to have come from this. But science has moved on since then, and there is an ongoing project to see whether it may be possible to re-establish the mammoth by combining mammoth DNA with an elephant mother. Given that the dodo was related to species that still exist, similar work may be possible with the dodo.
Holding our breath might lead us to the same fate as the dodo, but might it be time for today’s poultry genetics companies to consign the saying, "As dead as a dodo," to history?