Dead as a dodo, or a Giant Tortoise

Odd things come up in lessons. Yesterday it was the dodo.

Oxford_Dodo_displayI suppose I took it for granted that the dodo was a universal cultural object, but it clearly isn’t. I briefly explained the history of the bird – that it was both flightless, friendly and eminently edible. One or two of the group had vaguely heard of it (Elisa suggested it might be a dinosaur, which is actually pretty close in a number of ways, and Daria knew that the Dodo crops up in Alice in Wonderland). But it seems there is no proverbial equivalent for dead as a dodo.

For information, the bird became extinct in the seventeenth century (the last documented sighting was in 1688), in part because it was fearless of humans, and flightless; and in part because humans introduced cats, dogs, rats and other predators to its island home, Mauritius, and also destroyed its natural habitats.

The edible and docile properties of the Dodo were evidently shared by the Giant Tortoise of the Galapagos, which for the 300 years following its discovery in 1535 had no scientific (i.e. Latin) name, because they were so delicious that none of them ever made it back to Europe to be properly classified.

Here is a short bit of the quiz show, QI, in which the panellists discuss the edibility of the Giant Tortoise.


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