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Why intelligent Dodos and big friendly giants disappeared8 min read

November 18, 2020 6 min read


Why intelligent Dodos and big friendly giants disappeared8 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Do you think you can name the first creature that humans drove to extinction? Complete the puzzle below to get some hints. (Yup, the answer is in the title too)

Yup! That’s right, you- giant-brained human- just unscrambled this jigsaw puzzle, but unfortunately, you arrived at the wrong answer. We often believe that the Dodo bird that went extinct in the 1600s was the first poor creature that humans sent into non-existence. But, as professor Julian Hume, a paleontologist, will tell you- we could not be further from the truth.

Yes, the last Dodo bird indeed took its final breath in Mauritius in the 1600s, and it is true that humans drove it to its death. But professor Hume has shown us that the Dodo bird was only one in a series of animals that had already been sentenced to eternal extinction by humans.  

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The Dodo bird was actually a type of pigeon! Also, we were wrong about the idea that the Dodo was somehow a stupid, slow, or unintelligent bird. The name Dodo comes from the Portuguese word dodo that means fool or madman. Even though we have adopted ‘dodo’ as a name that we call people who are not very intelligent, the bird was remarkable, quick, and smart.

A 3D digital model of the skull of the only complete skeleton of a single dodo. Image: Leon Claessens and Mauritius Museums Council

So, if the Dodo wasn’t the first animal that we drove to extinction, what was and why?

The Why 

Well, scientists believe that the big extinctions caused by humans began when our ancestors, the Neanderthals, started to migrate about 200,000 years ago. That is when humans began to move about in groups and hunt en masse for our entire group or tribe.

In fact, after our ancestors started moving out of Africa, which where it is believed human first came to be and lived, scientists noticed repeated patterns of extinction. They found that wherever we went, we would eradicate the large and slow animals in the region! Remember, this was way back before we had the guns that we use today or even the ones that people used to cause the extinction of the Dodo. 

Neanderthals had complete and deadly hunting rituals. Image: History.com

For the first time since the last dinosaurs were made extinct when a giant asteroid struck the Earth, animals started going extinct very quickly. Humans would cause the extinction of a species that had previously taken millions of years, take a mere thousand years, and sometimes even less!  

Why were these large animals at risk?

According to the ecologist, Dr. Felisa Smith, who studies the reduction in animal sizes over time, there are many reasons for this. First of all, these big friendly animals, much like the Dodo, were probably unaware of the fact that humans were threats. So, they were likely friendly and readily made themselves available to hunt.

Secondly, humans probably saw these large animals as their biggest threat every time they moved to a new habitat. Lastly, these large animals were presumably a good source of a large amount of meat, so humans could feed themselves well with just a single hunting trip. 

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The large animals that we made extinct tens of thousands of years ago were relatives of animals we know today, such as sloths, elephants, and bears. If they roamed the Earth today, it would probably look like we were walking through a magical and fantastical land. Try to find the names of these animals in the word search below. 

Are there other ways in which humans cause the extinction of species?

Yes, there are.

  • We also caused species extinction through widespread fires that destroyed the animal’s jungle homes and left them without shelter or food.
  • We indirectly cause the death of animals as our rapidly increasing population competed with them for their food.
  • Lastly, Global Warming has also been a significant seed of causing the extinction of species.

So, getting back, what was the first animal that humans drove to extinction?

Here is just some of Africa’s vast Biodiversity. Image: Jigsaw Puzzle Club

Well, that is the answer we don’t really know. The only reliable data that we have on extinction dates back to around 120,000 years ago. But humans were around for much longer than that. We do know that as far as we have data, humans have been causing the extinction of animals.

However, Dr. Smith believes that even though patterns of extinction only became visible after humans migrated out of Africa, we were already driving species into oblivion long before that. You see, the average body size of African animals 125,000 years ago was only half that of species that were present on other continents around the world (LiveScience). As we know, humans tend to prey on larger animals and cause these species to go extinct.

Thus, since the average animal in Africa was smaller than those in the rest of the world 150,000 years ago, it is safe to assume that humans drove the larger animals on the continent to extinction.

Why do scientists like Dr. Hume and Dr. Smith study the bones of extinct animals?

According to Dr. Hume, there is no limit to the amount that we can learn from these fossils. Understanding extinction has helped us realize the unrelated and brutal impact that the disappearance of a single species can cause. Understanding all this is crucial so that we ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes that we made in the past.

Dung Beetle | Dododex | Ark: Survival Evolved
Mauritius’ Dung Beetle. Image: Dododex

Watch Dr. Hume talk a little bit about what he does for a living!

Modern Extinction

It is important to remember that the Dodo wasn’t the last animal species to go extinct either. We continue to cause the extinction of large animals in particular. 1,000 years ago, we made the Madascan Hippos disappear, and soon after, we authored the disappearance of the Moa birds in New Zealand.

Just 106 years ago, we bid adieu to the glorious passenger pigeons. But, thanks to the work of Dr. Hume, Dr. Smith, and several scientists before them, we have finally started to protect the animals we have put at risk of extinction. 

Recently, through the efforts of conservationists, the Iberian cat has clawed its way back from the brink of extinction. From just 95 in 2002, we now have almost 900 of these cats living on our planet!

An Iberian lynx
The Lynx or Iberian Cat.

Here are some more animals that scientists have pulled off the cliff of extinction. 

Think with Owliver: One of the main reasons that animals go extinct is global warming. That’s just another reason to be responsible and try our best to help reverse and fight it in our own little ways.

With Excerpts From: LiveScience, LiveScience, The Guardian, CNN, Dictionary.com, The New York Times