Dodo Skeleton Found on Island, May Yield Extinct Bird's DNA

Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News
July 3, 2007

Adventurers exploring a cave on an island in the Indian Ocean have discovered the most complete and well-preserved dodo skeleton ever found, scientists reported yesterday.

Researchers say the find would likely yield the first useful samples of the extinct, flightless bird's DNA.

Very little has been known about the dodo—from what exactly it looked like to what it ate—since it became extinct in the 1600s.

The new skeleton is thought to be complete and was likely preserved by its cave setting.

The cavers found the remains off the coast of Africa on Mauritius, the only island were dodos were known to have lived (see a map of Africa).

The discovery was made last month, but its location was kept secret until the skeleton was completely recovered on June 29.

Nicknamed Fred after the caver who found the bones, the bird was kept under guard while the recovery took place, according to press reports.

DNA Clues

Until now most of the information about dodos has come from scattered bone fragments. Only one other full skeleton was ever unearthed—in the 1860s—but it has been of limited scientific value, because the person who discovered it never revealed where it was found.

"We need to know about the location to understand the ecology of the dodo," said Kenneth Rijsdijk, a scientist with Geological Survey of the Netherlands, who plans to study the environment in which the newfound bird was discovered.

The site of the new dodo skeleton and the layout of its bones has been precisely recorded, making the find already very useful to scientists, he added.

"We can take soil samples and discover how and why the animal got there," Rijskijk said.

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