Discovery, the Dutch, and the Dodo

Today, Mauritius has a busy port city and roadways that criss-cross the country. It’s hard to believe that this island was nothing but wildlife and forests just 400 years ago.

In 1511, Portuguese sailors landed on Mauritius. The island started popping up on Portuguese maps, but the Portuguese never settled here. The next visitors came in 1598 – a group of Dutch sailors. They named the island “Mauritius” in honor of Price Maurice of the Netherlands.

Mauritius was pretty much untouched by outsiders until the Dutch settled on the island. The native animals on Mauritius arrived by air (birds) or sea (amphibians or reptiles). Over millions and millions of years, some of these animals adapted and evolved into very unique species. These animals roamed freely until humans began exploring the island.

One of these unique animals was the dodo bird. The dodo evolved as a flightless bird, since it had no predators on the island and food was easy to find. The Dutch thought the animal was stupid. It was tall, plump, slow, and couldn’t fly.

After weeks at sea, hungry Dutch sailors became desperate for fresh meat. They began killing the dodo for food (even though sailors’ diaries said the bird tasted terrible!) The Dutch also brought non-native species to the island, like rats and pigs. These animals competed with the dodo for limited food sources. Within 80 years, the dodo became completely extinct.

The Dutch tried to create settlement on Mauritius, but the island wasn’t providing enough resources for the Netherlands. The settlers left in 1710.