Wed Nov 19,
PARIS (AFP) - The dodo, an ungainly-looking Indian Ocean bird which became a synonym for extinction when it died out some 300 years ago, probably survived nearly three decades beyond the date commonly given for its disappearance, scientists believe.
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The last confirmed sighting of a dodo was on a small islet off Mauritius in 1662, an occasion that stirred huge excitement because a whole 24 years had elapsed since the large flightless bird had been previously spotted.
However according to calculations by zoologists David Roberts and Andrew Solow, the species probably struggled on until 1690 before dying out.
The animal's disappearance, which gave rise to the expression "dead as a dodo," is believed to have been caused by a combination of human settlement and being hunted for its attractive feathers, making it arguably the world's first fashion victim.
The mathematics used in Roberts' and Solow's research is based on a linear equation, whose factors are the progressively rarer sightings of the dodo as the 17th century wore on. The increasingly wider gap between sightings points to a population in headlong decline.
Their estimate is that the dodo drew its last breath in 1690.
"In most cases, the extinction of a species must be inferred from the record of sightings or from collections of individual organisms," the pair write in Thursday's issue of Nature, the British science weekly.
"But when a species becomes increasingly rare before its final extinction, it may continue to exist unseen for many years -- so the time of its last sighting may be a poor estimate of the time of extinction."
Roberts, of Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens, and Solow, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, note that an escaped slave known only as Simon claimed to have seen a dodo in 1674, 12 years after the last confirmed sighting.
Simon's account, and other later claims, "are open to question" but even if they were true, the dodo would no doubt have died out by 1700, they say.
The dodo, discovered by Portuguese seafarers in 1507 on Mauritius and surrounding islands, weighed in at about 23 kilos (50 pounds) fully grown.
Easy to catch and with low fertility, the birds were imperilled by the introduction of cats, rats and pigs on its home.
But the nail in the coffin was fashion. The dodo's magnificent grey-blue feathers meant that the bird was hunted to oblivion to provide plumage for women's hats.
source: PARIS (AFP)