The Dodo and the Solitaire: A Natural History

The Dodo and the Solitaire: A Natural History

The Dodo and the Solitaire: A Natural History

The Dodo and the Solitaire: A Natural History


The Dodo and the Solitaire is the most comprehensive book to date about these two famously extinct birds. It contains all the known contemporary accounts and illustrations of the dodo and solitaire, covering their history after extinction and discussing their ecology, classification, phylogenetic placement, and evolution. Both birds were large and flightless and lived on inhabited islands some 500 miles east of Madagascar. The first recorded descriptions of the dodo were provided by Dutch sailors who first encountered them in 1598--within 100 years, the dodo was extinct. So quickly did the bird disappear that there is insufficient evidence to form an entirely accurate picture of its appearance and ecology, and the absence has led to much speculation. The story of the dodo, like that of the solitaire, has been pieced together from fragments, both literary and physical, that have been carefully compiled and examined in this extraordinary volume.


First Encounters:
Van Neck’s Account

The first eyewitnesses of the dodo to record its appearance were the Dutchmen and Zeelanders of the fleet of Admiral Jacob Cornelisz van Neck. These were part of the second expedition to the East Indies, the Tweede Schipvaart. the fleet consisted of eight ships: the flagship Mauritius (with Van Neck on board), the Amsterdam (with Vice-Admiral Wybrand van Warwijck on board), the Hollant, the Overijssel, the Gelderland, the Zeelandt, the Utrecht, and the yacht Vrieslandt. the eight ships departed from Texel in the Netherlands on May 1, 1598. During a storm near the Cape of Good Hope on August 8 the fleet was split up; the Amsterdam, the Gelderland, the Zeelandt, the Utrecht and the Vrieslandt headed for Mauritius, then known as Ilha do Cerne, whilst the others sailed to Île Sainte-Marie off the coast of Madagascar. Van Warwijck became commander of his small fleet, and Jacob van Heemskerk vice-commander. Having sighted land at around one o’clock in the afternoon on September 17, the Dutch approached; they were uncertain as to whether it was the Ilha do Cerne or Rodrigues.

Van Warwijck’s five ships were at the island from September 18 until October 2. They anchored off the southeast coast and sent men ashore to search for food and fresh water. This was their first landfall since departing from the Netherlands. After the initial excursion a second was made – by a sloop from the Amsterdam and one from the Gelderland; they found a good harbor (Mahébourg Bay), which they named Warwijck Bay. Fresh water was found and toward evening the men came back with eight or nine large birds: dodos (see below; Hamel [1848] noted that these could not have been herons, as the latter could not be easily captured [Anon. 1601a]) and many small birds, which they had caught by hand.

The following morning, September 19, the ships sailed into Warwijck Bay and sailors went ashore again to collect food, including dodos and other birds. the officers of the Amsterdam, the Utrecht, the Zeelandt and the Vrieslandt thought that the island was Rodrigues, whereas those of the Gelderland correctly considered it to be Ilha do Cerne (Den Hengst 2003). the island was renamed Mauritius in honor of Stadhouder Maurits van Nassau. September 20 was the Amsterdam kermis or fair (see below) and a service of thanksgiving was held (Van Wissen 1995). Later that day, first one half of the crew, and then the other, went ashore (see Jolinck’s description below). On September 21 a council held on board the Amsterdam decided that there should be further excursions inland; there were eight expeditions in total (Moree 1998).

There were expeditions inland on September 22–24 and 26–29 (led by Wouter Willekens with 10 men; the latter expedition went 17 miles along . . .

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