National Geographic : 1956 Jan
Mauritius, Island of the Dodo cloth, and myselfe with one or two more then in company went in to see it. It was kept in a chamber, and was a great fowle some what bigger than the largest Turky Cock... The keeper called it a Dodo." Tradescant's stuffed bird eventually landed in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford Uni versity. There in 1755 university officials ordered the bedraggled specimen burned. Only the head and right foot were saved. While I was on Mauritius, Jean Vinson, curator of the Mauritius Institute in Port Louis, gave me one of my most treasured souvenirs: the tibiotarsus, or thigh bone, of a dodo, found in the marsh where George Clark dug in 1865. Islet Harbors Living Fossils In a glass case at the Institute, Mr. Vin son and Dr. R. E. Vaughan, the director, showed me two other "aboriginal Mauritians": the skeleton of an Aphanapteryx, or "poule rouge," the extinct red hen of Mauritius; and a stuffed Dutch pigeon, Alectroenas nitidissima. Only that one skeleton of a red hen and two other stuffed Dutch pigeons exist. Fa The Aphanapteryx, from contem- This rec porary paintings, had a long curved lifelike b beak and rust-red feathers. Its most obvious feature-or lack of one-was the total absence of wings. Mauritius, for all its queer birds, has never had snakes. This was undoubtedly a blessing to the flight less dodo and Aphanapteryx. Strangely, however, Round Island, a rocky uninhabited islet 13 miles off the northern tip of Mauritius, does have two species of snakes, as well as unusual native palm trees. Some herpetologists believe the snakes, Bolyeria multicarinata and Casarea dussumieri, may be the only extant representatives of an ancient family of reptiles-"living fossils" of the snake world. When Jean told me of the oddities of Round Island, I persuaded him we should pay it a visit forthwith. Round Island covers less than a square mile, but rises steeply for 1,055 feet to a boulder-capped sum mit. Scattered over its eroded flanks grow three kinds of palms, pan danus trees, and sparse bushes. The only sounds are the crashing of waves on rocky shores and the cries of sea birds (page 100). We landed on the only ledge of rock that can be reached by small boat and scrambled about for most of a day, searching unsuccess fully for one of the rare snakes. Jean even looked in the tops of the palms. Among crevices in the rocks we did find geckos-small lizards. We found also both the white-tailed and red-tailed paille-en-queue, the "tropic bird," whose pointed stern feathers flick like rapiers in the sun (page 101). Another bird that Jean discovered on Round Island a few years ago was identified as Pterodroma arminjoniana, a species of petrel known previously only on the small volcanic Brazilian island of Trindade. Trindade lies below the shoulder of South America on virtually the same latitude as Round Island but a quarter of the world away in longitude. The two rugged, lonely islands, Trindade and Round, are the only places where this particular species has ever been found. t, Flightless, Dumb-and Dead as a Dodo instructed specimen in the Mauritius Institute is made y blue-gray feathers, straggly tail, and ludicrous mien.