By Kerri Romeo
In our last visit to Alice’s Wonderland we met the Dodo, an unlikely leader who has literally (the animal) and figuratively (effective elected leaders) gone extinct in our own “Wonderland.” Our humanity seems to be headed toward extinction as well, or at the very least is endangered. Maybe the history of the Dodo Bird has some insight so we can avoid repeating our mistakes?
Thinking back to childhood we typically learned about Dinosaurs (Cretaceous period), the Woolly Mammoth (the Ice Age) and the Dodo Bird (the 17th Century) as if the only creatures of extinction. As a child they all seemed as mythical as a unicorn and perhaps why as adults we don’t take the danger of extinction seriously. In our grammar school lessons the most common explanations for extinction were related to cycles of change in climate and other natural disasters. As we got older sometimes the lessons expanded to a distorted interpretation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, otherwise described as survival of the fittest, which has become an awful misinformed excuse for what is happening today, both towards major animal species and with our mentality (specifically superiority complexes) towards one another. Too many of us stopped learning at this point. Were we supposed to compete with one another or were we meant to develop our best traits further to benefit all?
The Dodo Bird’s unique rise to fame began as being one of the first species to be recognized as having vanished from existence after religions that once denied the possibility of extinction could no longer ignore the evidence that proved otherwise. Soon after, the Dodo Bird was featured in a newspaper article for The Penny Magazine (a British publication for the working class based on “rational inquiry”; can we bring a publication like this back to life?) by a naturalist who spotlighted the bird as an example of extinction caused by humans. Humans had been affecting ecosystems wherever they migrated to and hunted animals into extinction for centuries. But what seems to be distinct about the Dodo Bird’s devastating end was the introduction of human industry. There wasn’t an asteroid, a meteor or a deep freeze that lasted 50,000 years. This was a catastrophic event unlike any other — when human drive transformed from need to greed.
“The agency of man, in limiting the increase of the inferior animals, and in extirpating certain races, was perhaps never more strikingly exemplified than in the case of the Dodo. That a species so remarkable in its character should become extinct, within little more than two centuries, so that the fact of its existence at all has been doubted, is a circumstance which may well excite our surprise, and lead us to a consideration of similar changes which are still going on from the same cause.” ~ William Broderip (from Penny Magazine, 1833)
Living a peaceful existence on a remote island sounds pretty blissful right about now. This seems to be the likely existence of the Dodo Bird (with the occasional unfavorable weather conditions). With no known predators, the Dodo Bird never needed to resort to fight or flight response and would naturally never suspect or be prepared for the ill-intentions upon the arrival of the Dutch settlers. Trust does not equate to being dumb and power does not equate to intelligence; Superiority equates to ignorance though.
Forcing slaves to do the labor, the objective was to cut down and sell the ebony wood from the trees, plant sugar cane and tobacco, make a few dollars and, when it no longer held value to them, everything and everyone else became expendable to the settlers. They came, they destroyed, they conquered and then they left the devastated island with little mention of the Dodo Bird who could not survive in their destroyed habitat. Gone. With no remorse for the work of the slaves. Forgotten. With no understanding of the effects on the ecosystem. Destroyed. They sailed away as if what happens on the island of Mauritius stays on the island of Mauritius. Was it worth it?
Mischaracterizations, denial and disregard over nature, animals and people is not something that only happened in history on some out-of-the-way island that we learned from. There is a pattern that continues to exist. In some ways it may be obvious. In other ways it has evolved into different forms that may be unrecognizable to us in the present. How can we correct what we don’t even recognize within ourselves? Could it be because we still don’t even recognize how we contributed in the past? Is hindsight 20/20?
What industries today are causing harm to nature or animals or people? What industries today help nature, animals and people thrive? What personal choices affect nature, animals or people? Are our motivations based in ego, greed, competition and power, or cooperation and community? In honor of the legendary Dodo Bird, can we overcome this age of greed?
In the latest episode of “Ask Jesse” Victoria Hall & Jesse Crall talk about the Pursuit of Happiness (hint – it is not about getting rich).
A history of animals that have gone extinct (please watch to the end):
Also, some Bob Marley optimism with “Three Little Birds”:
Continue this thoughtful journey with the next installment, “Women in Wonderland“.
Kerri is an advocate for the introverted activist. Often at a loss for words in person, she writes to make sense of the world and connect with others. She wishes for more curiosity & kindness in the world.