A Tribute to the Dodo

Photo by author of dodo replica at AMNH, March 2016.

In the midst of an enthralling exhibit about the evolutionary pathways that led to birds at the American Museum of Natural History, there was a tribute to the much-maligned dodo.

The placard was simply titled, “Not dumb.” After the species name, they continued, “This model depicts a bird, the Dodo, whose name has entered the popular culture as a symbol of stupidity. But many birds are intelligent, as–it seems–were many non-bird dinosaurs. Dodos were ill-equipped to escape introduced predators, but that doesn’t equal stupidity…Humans hunted dodos to extinction within about 90 years after the first Dutch ship made landfall [in Mauritius].” (American Museum of Natural History, Dinosaurs among Us exhibit, March 2016)

Wise words from a museum that also houses a letter from Teddy Roosevelt lamenting the loss of the passenger and the Carolina parakeet–two species that are not accused of being dumb but who were shoved into the black hole of extinction nonetheless.

It was a remarkable exhibit, and I hope the reproaching gaze of the dodo is noted by most visitors. Blaming a species for its own demise is a twisted way to rationalize all of the destruction engendered by human hands.

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