Undead as a Dodo

I made the mistake yesterday of reading the news. See, I was desperately hoping to procrastinate a task and was clinging at any straw necessary. I typically avoid the news, as these days it always seems to involve bad news, worse, news, and something asinine that Trump said (seriously, stop trying to decipher his ramble, he’s lost it). I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I scrolled until I stumbled upon it: De-extinction Plan to Reintroduce Dodo to Mauritius

There was a lot to unpack here, so I poured another coffee, portioned out a leftover enchilada from the night before (unpacking requires calories), and I clicked. The gist is, geneticists have found a way to engineer a dodo bird by artificially inseminating a pigeon. They will then reintroduce the dodo to Mauritius, but how and where they are not sure.

My one experience with a dodo was enough to set me on a course of interest in the bird. I was visiting the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh in the late 1990s. He was stuffed, looking rather surprised. He stood about 2 ½ feet tall, he was stout, and he was covered in hair. I naturally believed him to be one of my relatives, so I read up on him.

The dodo was endemic to Mauritius and was reported to the West by Dutch and Portuguese sailors. They found it to be a fully fearless and friendly chap and since they approached humans they were so easy to catch. More, when other dodos heard one of their friends in distress, they all ran to the place where he was to help him out. And since the dodo couldn’t fly away once they realized how much humans sucked, they were all rounded up and killed. They were then eaten because they were so large, though the record is torn on whether or not the meat was worthwhile.     

The human population on Mauritius was tiny (never exceeding 50 people in the 17th century) so the dodo wasn’t eaten to death, but rather starved to death by the competition brought on by the animals the humans introduced, such as dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and macaques.

So, it would seem that we owe the dodo a de-evolution effort. I only hope that the dodo is influenced by the pigeon DNA that will surely mix itself as its host. I hope the dodo keeps its historical friendliness, but gets just a drop of pigeon shiftiness and cynicism. We’d never be able to round up pigeons, not even with a gallery of public statues to poop upon. Let’s hope the dodo is born with that gene.

I am also a little concerned about English idiomatic tradition. Given its propensity to walk up to the most dangerous animal on earth and get hacked to death, I get why we call the unintelligent and trusting dodos. But now that they are being brought back and crossed with pigeons, will this idiom still carry the same weight? Surely we’ll have to allow for the addition of the pigeon DNA and we’ll likely see it come to linguistic fruition at the end of our lifetimes. She’s a dodo – really good at avoiding traffic at the last second and poops on low-lying cement structures. Ah, I hate dodos! They’re giant rats with useless wings that are confined to Mauritius – seems you’d have to go out of your way to complaint about these days. The only idiom I know with pigeons is the uncannily British idiom to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, which means to throw an undesirable outsider among an otherwise content group. Can throw a cat amongst the crossbred-pigeon-dodo work as well? How about to throw a Dutch sailor amongst the dodos.

The other idiom is more troubling. To go the way of the dodo means of course to be obsolete, extinct. Well, I need not explain the problem. Will we allow for the updated meaning. Looks like the perm has gone the way of the dodo, came and went and then came back again. No, I don’t like this. Almost as much as I dislike the very thought of the de-extinction of the perm. We’ll just have to see.

I am happy to see the dodo come back to the world stage, if only in our hearts and consciences. I only hope that there’s some evolutionary memory to help them avoid a similar fate. Also, I hope we just leave them the hell alone. We’re also de-extincting the woolly mammoth. I give it a decade or so before we have teamed the dodo and the mammoth up so as to delight zoo-visitors across the globe.

Part of the reason humanity is undertaking these efforts is to make up for past crimes against nature and to inject a little optimism into conservation. Every day we hear about the sixth extinction and the devastation that dwindling habitat and resources are having on global flora and fauna. And I won’t lie – that has been part of the effect on me. But de-extincting two animals surely sounds like a premise being pitched in a Hollywood producer’s office after lunchtime. I wonder if it’s a horror movie. In any event, unless we make humans a lot less stupid, these efforts are bound to go the way of the dodo-pigeon.  

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