Friday, September 18, 2009

More cricket. The amazing dodo ... who knew?

5am Got up early to see the last play of the sixth One Day International from Nottingham, England. The most convincing Australian win yet (by 111 runs) to go 6-nil up. The last match in the series is in two days time. Will the tourists achieve a 7-0 "whitewash" - something never done by any team in this form of cricket? With today's result Australia goes back to world number one in the rankings. Youngster of the squad and wicketkeeper Tim Paine hit 111 - his first century in international cricket - and was Man of the Match. Looks like he may be "the new Adam Gilchrist", that is, a specialist wicketkeeper who is also a top-order batsman. I am aware that this is gobbledegook to all who don't follow cricket. I have a similar non-comprehension of many ... well, most! ... sports.

And since the blooming cricket finished early - ten available overs not required after Brett Lee clean bowled the last hapless Pom - I was forced to proceed to my toast and marmalade and pot of tea while catching the tail end, so to speak, of a NatGeo doco on the famous dodo. Genuinely fascinating to learn that recent DNA results, from the sole partial specimen of that extinct species, reveal that it was a ... pigeon. Not a turkey-like separate avian family. Nope. Your actual pigeon, but of course a distinct species of that family, and one isolated on Mauritius for - they reckon - ten million years, its ancestors having arrived originally island-hopping from south east Asia, NOT from Africa. With no local competitors, it evolved into a larger flightless ground dweller. The characteristic heavy beak was about fighting for territory and mating rights.

It gets even more interesting. Our popular image of the bird is mistaken, based upon 16th and 17th century sketches, really caricature drawings, which suggest a clumsy creature. New study of the single remaining partial specimen tells a different tale. We have, it seems, a well-coordinated creature with a strong thrust-forward chest, head and neck developed for a fighting role, and strong legs. Two other areas of research shed light. An on-going archaelogical dig of the fortified Dutch post on Mauritius has shown absolutely no kitchen midden traces of dodo remains, while ships' logs contain specific mentions to confirm that the bird's meat was unpalatable and generally unsuitable as a food source. Hence it was not harvested for on-voyage stores, and over-hunting by humans was NOT a reason for the extinction. The species persisted for about a hundred years of human visitation, until the 1660s. The culprit is inferred to be feral pigs, from animals introduced by the earlier Dutch ships. Pigs would eat the eggs or chicks, and probably disrupt breeding patterns. The recent researchers are pretty certain that the birds could give a good account of themselves, and adults could drive off direct attacks. The ship log evidence also attests that unarmed humans were not feared, and a dodo could strike and bite painfully.

The final insult was that the one museum specimen in England was so daggy and moth-eaten that in 1755 a spring-cleaning curator THREW IT OUT. Some nameless history-saviour souvenired it, and the head, neck and one leg which remain today are from that source.

And the name? Dodo was the name bestowed by a man who was put in charge of the live crated bird when it first arrived. It was suggested by the sustained churring doo...doh call of the bird which, we may assume, was not a happy chap. With good reason, all things considered.

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