I have been fascinated by pigeons since childhood. I can’t remember a time when I had no pigeons, but in a country obsessed by the homing pigeon sport, I was more interested in the feral/street pigeon which everybody sees as a pest.

My interest was its behaviour, its varied yet uniform coloured patterns and its adaptability to live so close to humans. This interest sparked my interest in genetics and in columbid diversity.

I ended up breeding hundreds of pigeons; in the process bringing the rockdove and the Maltese giant runt back, describing other local breeds and developing the Sciberras pigeon. I travelled to many countries for entomology purposes but, at the same time, I was always on the lookout for bird-watching columbids.

After all this, my varied collection of domestic breeds for research needed the ultimate relative to put a picture on the diversity of this family of birds... the extinct dodo.

I searched all the material available and was not satisfied with the reconstructions I found. Working on the latest scientific works, we came to what I believe to be the most accurate specimen to this date. Local and foreign naturalists also praised what is being coined as “The Maltese dodo”. I cannot take full credit for this specimen as I was assisted by an incredibly talented sculptor who wishes to remain anonymous.

In the process of the current research, I made friends with a world-leading avian palaeontologist artist Julian Hume, to whom I am grateful for all his guidance.

The body is composed of materials such as polyurethane foam and the feathers were meticulously assembled from captive-bred birds which were either deceased pets or a by-product of human consumption, so none were culled or harmed for the making of this specimen.

The dodo is the largest pigeon type of bird known to have ever existed

As far as we are aware, this is the only specimen that exists or was built locally. The most accurate known model to date is in a Singapore museum but it lacks real feathers so it looks rather fake in my opinion.

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. The dodo’s closest genetic relative was the also-extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. In short, it is the largest pigeon type of bird known to have ever existed. The closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon.

A scale model of a dodo’s egg.A scale model of a dodo’s egg.

Like many animals that evolved in isolation from significant predators, the dodo was entirely fearless of humans. This fearlessness and its inability to fly made the dodo easy prey for sailors.

Although some scattered reports describe mass killings of dodos for ships’ provisions, archaeological investigations have found scant evidence of human predation.

The human population on Mauritius never exceeded 50 people in the 17th century, but they introduced other animals, including dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and crab-eating macaques, that plundered dodo nests and competed for the limited food resources.

At the same time, humans destroyed the forest habitat of the dodos. The impact of the introduced animals on the dodo population, especially the pigs and macaques, is today considered more severe than that of hunting.

This species’ significance as one of the best-known extinct animals and its singular appearance led to its use in literature and popular culture as a symbol of an outdated concept or object.

What I find strange is that, after all this time, the human population has not yet learnt from its mistakes and continues to pillage the natural world. I guess we will never learn until our own extinction is in due course as we do not own this world but we are a mere pestilence on it, and we depend entirely on it.

Further physical reconstructions of extinct columbids are planned in the nearby future. The aim is to educate the public on what we have lost and prevent further extinctions.

For more information on this specimen, call on 9988 7950 or e-mail  bioislets@gmail.com.

Arnold Sciberras is a pest control consultant by profession with an interest in palaeontology.

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