The Dodo and the Mughals

Asok Kumar Das describes how Mughal miniatures illuminate the flightless bird from the Indian Ocean, extinct since 1681.

There are many birds and animals that have become extinct or are on the verge of extinction, but none has evoked so much interest as the Dodo.

It caught the fancy of European travellers and authors and found a permanent place in popular imagination since it represented one of the last successors of a rare group of birds inhabiting the ancient world.

Dodo is the name of a strange bird found only in the Mascarene islands of Mauritius, Rodriguez and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The islands are extremely remote, the nearest land being Madagascar, lying nearly 550 miles apart to the West, separated by a stretch of Indian Ocean more than 2,000 fathoms in depth.

Dodos were noticed by early European sailors and travellers to Mauritius; they were found in large numbers and their giant size called for immediate comparison with birds like the ostrich or crane.

It was easy to catch them, for they could not fly and moved very slowly. The first recorded account of the bird is found in the Journal of Van Neck’s expedition to the Mascarene Islands in 1598. It was, however, known in Europe from the early years of the sixteenth century.

The last report of a living Dodo dates back to 1681, after which it became totally extinct.

Recently, an interesting contemporary likeness of a living Dodo has been found in an album of Persian and Mughal miniatures and calligraphic specimens, now deposited with the Institute of the Peoples of Asia, Leningrad, a part of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. Among pictures of four other birds - a Sumatran Loriquet, a Tragopan, a pair of unidentified geese and a pair of Indian sandgrouse - the picture of the Dodo in full and lively colours is pasted in the middle of the folio.

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