March 12, 2013 - Independence Day in Mauritius

The natives of Mauritius completely died out about a century after the island was discovered by Arab and Portuguese explorers.

The main reason they died out is because hungry sailors killed and ate them!

No, we are not talking about cannibalism (which is what humans eating humans is called). We are talking about the extinction of the Dodo bird!

You see, no people lived on Mauritius when Arab sailors first spotted the island during the Middle Ages and later, in 1507, when Portuguese explorers rediscovered the island, which is in the Indian Ocean about a 2,000 km (1,200 miles) away from Africa. The island was completely uninhabited.
Uninhabited, that is, by people. Dodo birds lived there.

As a matter of fact, Dodo birds lived ONLY on Mauritius—they lived nowhere else in the world!

The Dodo was fairly large for a bird: about a meter (3 feet) tall, and about 18 kg (40 pounds) in weight. The bird couldn't fly, but that hadn't been a problem for the Dodo because there was plenty of food and pretty much no large predators.

That is, until humans arrived.

The extinction of the Dodo bird is sad, but it had an important result: people became aware for the first time that species could go extinct! And some people felt pangs of regret, and they started saying and writing that extinction wasn't wonderful, even when it isn't your own species. Basically, the extinction of the Dodo bird called attention to a pattern that had happened before, but that had never before been recognized: the world can lose entire species when people invade a newly discovered wilderness, especially when those people bring (on purpose or by accident) creatures and plants into that place.

Then and now, the Dodo serves as a symbol of extinction. And ever since Lewis Carroll included it in Alice in Wonderland, the Dodo has become a part of popular culture. It has also been a sort of mascot for the people of Mauritius.

The first settlers on Mauritius were Dutch people, in the 1600s; after the Dutch settlement was abandoned, French people settled the island in the early 1700s. Later still, Great Britain took control of the colony. People came to live there from nearby Africa and India, plus from China and various European nations. The people of Mauritius celebrate their 1968 independence from Great Britain today.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the appointment of a 12-year-old Park Commissioner 

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