What did the dodo do wrong?
Humans have much in common with dodos.
Like us, they never had a natural predator. Having subsequently never adapted any defence mechanisms against hunters, they gained the reputation of biological clumsiness.
For one thing, they were flightless. They were also said to possess a naive fearlessness in the face of Dutch and Portuguese colonisers in the 17th century, when the sailors first arrived on the island of Mauritius to which dodos were once endemic.
Increased human activity in Mauritius became all too much for the poor dodo. Sailors did in fact hunt the birds to feed themselves, but indirect factors resulted in the dodo’s decline to a far more severe extent.
For example: the sailors introduced dogs, cats, rats, pigs and macaques to the island, which looted dodo nests and competed for food.
Deforestation of the dodo’s habitat too caused acute devastation from which it could never recover.
Rather worryingly, a similar process is happening now. Unprecedented levels of deforestation in the Amazon and Southeast Asian rainforests are taking place to make way for cattle grazing and palm oil. Unlike in the dodo’s time, science today tells us that the destruction of rainforests not only harms the wildlife inhabiting them but all life on Earth that breathes the oxygen they produce.
With their population gradually shrinking to what the WWF would have declared as ‘critically endangered’ throughout the late 1600s, the dodo promptly became extinct at the turn of the 17th century.
The dodo now stands as a stark, albeit cute (thanks to Mauritian exports of cuddly dodo toys), reminder of human-induced extinction. No complete fossil of the bird exists, but an assembly of bones each from different dodos can be seen in the Mauritian Institute.
There are also a number of crucial differences between humans and dodos.
The dodo is thought to have displayed remarkable resilience against natural changes to its climate prior to the species’ first encounter with humankind, including volcanic activity and flash floods.
Humans cannot boast the same. We are yet to adapt to what have become routine floods, droughts and wildfires.
But whilst it may sound like we stand even less of a chance at combating the impending threat to our existence than the dodo did 400 years ago, humans have certain capabilities the dodo couldn’t even dream of.
For instance, dodos weren’t able to organise, communicate and cooperate when met with people peril.
Humans, on the other hand, have organised school strikes and international protests that have influenced powerful institutions to take action; we have cooperated with international neighbours to place universal bans on whaling and the sale of meat with deforestation in its supply chain; we have communicated bad practice to the masses when others haven’t been playing ball and held them to account.
And we have developed innovative technology that has the potential to make lighting, heating, cooking, transport, agriculture, and countless other day-to-day luxuries we take for granted, carbon-neutral.
Still, with doom and gloom continuing to make headlines in the environmental news, there is much to be done.
So, what do we do to not suffer the same fate as the dodo?
Not take our foot off the biogas.