The Dodo

[ HOW WE PLAN TO de-extinct the dodo ]


A mysterious bird of similarly mysterious origins, the dodo ruled the roost on its native island of Mauritius—and nowhere else-until meeting an untimely demise.

Because in the late 17th century. man brought an abrupt end to the dodo species.
Today, Colossal is committed to bringing it back.


( Let’s Be Clear. The Only Stupid Creatures In This Story Are Humans. )


Like fabled unicorns and fantastic dragons, the dodo was widely believed to be a mythical creature well into the 19th century. However, historical documents show that Dutch sailors were the first to have recorded mention of its existence.

[ ALICE AND THE DODO - 1865 by john Tenniel ]
The Legendary Islander

Raphus cucullatus



Anatomical Stats

32 ” - 38 ” | 81 - 97 cm
29 - 50 lb | 13 - 23 kg
22 ” - 26 ” | 56 - 66 cm
10 - 30 years
Gray or Brown. White Tail.
7 ” - 9 ” | 17 - 23 cm
Walking and Running

More Than Meets the Eye

Although inevitable, had man never encountered a single dodo, the tropical island of Mauritius may still have a few. How they arrived in such secluded paradise is unclear. Regardless, this endemic species thrived without a care or natural predator until the arrival of settlers in the late 1500s.

Prior to mankind’s intrusion, the flightless dodo was able to maintain a steady population, even though it laid no more than one egg per year. But, with the introduction of one species came several more—including rats, goats, pigs, deer and macaque—all of which played a hand in decimating dodo numbers to zero. All of which were brought to Mauritius by humans and all of which happened to have a taste for dodo eggs. There are varying accounts of the last official sighting, but in 2003, David Roberts and Andrew Solow used a formula to place the dodo’s final date of extinction sometime around 1690.


Beth shapiro, ph.d.

Colossal Chief Science Officer


“There has never been more urgency to preserve species than there is today. It’s not just important for their continued existence. It’s for the greater good of the planet. Together, Colossal and the scientific community at large are committed to our efforts to de-extinct those we’ve lost.”

The Dodo


Beth Shapiro, along with collaborators Tom Gilbert and John Fjeldså from the University of Copenhagen, led a team to sequence and assemble the dodo's genome using DNA extracted from a skull in the collection of the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

The dodo genome, which has been sequenced to a coverage of around 50X, is currently being analyzed by a team from the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab along with a genome from the dodo's close (and unfortunately also extinct) relative, the Rodrigues solitaire, using a sample collected by paleontologist Julian Hume.



Gone but Not Forgotten

Before their population numbers began a rapid descent to zero, the dodo lived a simple life. But these flightless islanders were simple in neither body nor mind, contrary to popular belief. In reality, they were merely unaware of the dangers posed by predatory animals, because for the majority of their existence, dodos hadn’t encountered any.

Unfortunately, the absence of natural predators meant that the dodo’s resulting temperament, traits and behavior made it an easy target for the invasive species that accompanied equally-invasive human settlers. Accounts tell of the birds approaching humans without fear, again, because they had never been hunted or preyed upon.



Native Habitat: Paradise.

It’s unclear when or how the dodo came to live on the mystifying island of Mauritius, but they certainly never left. This small volcanic island was the dodo’s only home, likely due to its safety and plentiful resources. In fact, evolutionary traits indicate that living conditions were so ideal, the dodo ultimately became flightless—and therefore, unable to leave. But, although these endemic birds have long been absent from the subtropical jungles of Mauritius, the island remains a lush and vibrant paradise today.

figure 2 - Oxford Dodo

Simple Life. Complex Bird.

With its muted gray feathers and stark white tail plume, the dodo was, in many ways, a minimalist. Nature, having seemingly forgotten to provide the bird an enemy, removed its necessity to fly or seek shelter in the branches of Mauritius’ lofty trees. Over time, heads shrank in size and beaks became longer, more curved, allowing access to the low-lying food, fallen fruit and roots the dodo is suspected to have eaten. The birds’ unused wings slowed in development and retained their juvenile appearance, while their bodies grew larger in contrast.

Of course, a heavier frame didn’t just eliminate the dodo’s ability to fly. It required additional support and increased mobility, too—silent demands, answered by the development of thick leg bones, large kneecaps and a broad pelvis. The development of these features ensured that flightlessness would never hinder the dodo, even on Mauritius’ rocky terrain. In fact, their physique and lack of predators allowed the dodo to truly thrive at ground-level. Which is precisely where they built nests, foraged for food and ran about on two short legs.

Overall, dodos were a paradox in both behavior and design—a stout, muscular breed whose attributes translated into an almost comedic appearance. A species with no natural predators, given superior strength and features that could inflict damage on foreign enemies, if only it was able to recognize them as such. Still, their evolution was biologically complex, its success evidenced by the species’ carefree lifestyle, prior to the arrival of settlers at Mauritius. While circumstance eventually left the dodo vulnerable to extinction, evolution is not to blame for the shortsightedness of man.

figure 1 - Raphus cucullatus ( Didus ineptus )

“We have a duty to heal our planet, and to sustain it for future generations. With creativity, caution, and consultation, ethical use of modern genetic technologies can help stabilize ecosystems while bringing the animals and plants who share our planet back from the brink of extinction.”

Fast Facts

Biology & Behavior


Female dodos laid just one egg per year, likely because it was under no stress to produce more. Bone structure suggests that chicks hatched sometime in or around August at an average height of 8 inches, growing very quickly into adulthood to prepare for the cyclones that battered Mauritius between November and March.

Dietary Habits

That the dodo’s appetizer of choice were literal rocks probably didn’t help dissolve their reputation of being stupid. In reality, rocks were a wise choice and an essential part of the bird’s diet. When swallowed first, these gizzard stones or gastroliths, ground up whatever followed, assisting the digestion of fibrous fruit, nuts, seeds, bulbs, shellfish and the occasional crab.

Closest Relatives

Doves, vultures and pigeons are all purported to be relatives of the dodo. But one species shares ties in more ways than one. The bright and colorful Nicobar pigeon can be found on the islands after which it’s named. Similarly-isolated and tropical, it’s also the dodo’s closest living relative. Unfortunately, the Nicobar pigeon is currently an endangered species, and if we don’t act now, it could meet the same fate.

The island that

A glimpse into present-day Mauritius Island

Jewel of the Indian Ocean

Deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean, a mere 500 miles off the Eastern coast of Madagascar, lies a subtropical jungle—the island of Mauritius. It’s a sparkling paradise, adorned with white sand beaches, roaring waterfalls, placid lagoons and enormous mountains, their cliffs as black as the night. Mauritius is a 24 karat emerald atop a prismatic band of coral reefs. But its most remarkable feature is the hand upon which it lays–an illusory underwater waterfall beckons only to those who view Mauritius’ Le Morne Peninsula from above.

Endemic Flora & Fauna

While it’s arguably the most famous, the dodo is only one of over 600 indigenous species to call Mauritius home. Due to its isolation, Mauritius has a considerably low diversity of wildlife. In fact, a large proportion of Mauritian species are endemic, meaning they don’t occur anywhere else on the planet. The native mammalian fauna is limited to bats and marine animals—among them, the endearingly wide-eyed Mauritius flying fox.

Like all things beautiful, Mauritius had a unique magnetism that called to settlers from all corners of the world. The rising presence of man caused many plants and animals to seemingly fade into the mist. Even today, many species are still threatened and endangered due to human activity, particularly habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species.

At one point, several native birds neared an end similar to that of the dodo, including the Mauritius kestrel, the Mauritius parakeet and the pink pigeon. Fortunately, the winds of change have given conservation a well-deserved spotlight. And although these species were faced with the threat of extinction not long ago, intensive conservation efforts have played a key role in their increasing population numbers.

Mauritius Endemic Bird Stamps

Mauritius bird stamps have been released in many waves since the originals in 1965

Dutch Settlers

It’s the ultimate question asked of any centuries-old crisis: who started this? Who is to blame? Which nation was the first to set foot on Mauritius? If there’s one thing we know about history, it’s that nations were forever enamored with “firsts.”

According to historical documents, the Dutch were first to land on the shores of Mauritius in 1598, forced to do so by one of the violent storms that battered the island and surrounding waters. With them, the Dutch and following settlers brought invasive species such as pigs, rats, goats, macaques and deer. Sailors found an easy meal in adult dodos, as their docile nature and lack of fear made them approachable. And of all the species introduced by man, the black rat posed the biggest threat to dodo eggs.

Eventually, the same storms that trapped settlers here drove them away. Sailors grew sick and weary in their perpetually-drenched condition, leaving behind their animals upon exit.

Path To


Endangered & Extinct Species


A harrowing look
at extinction on the
island of Mauritius


Native Mauritius Species


Are Endangered


Are Extinct

Victim of Circumstance

Much of what we know about the dodo is still up for debate. Speculation colors the precise details of everything from diet to body mass index to closest relatives. Even paleontologists and historians, plagued by unconfirmed accounts that dispute the validity of recorded sightings, acknowledge that the date of the dodo’s discovery is as ambiguous as the date of its extinction.

However, what we do know about the dodo paints a picture of a species that’s been critically misunderstood—a bird widely considered to be so unintelligent, it’s satirically deemed responsible for its own demise. In reality, the dodo is a victim of circumstance, as multiple factors played a unique part in culling its numbers.

Fall of the Flightless

Contrary to popular belief, the dodo was intelligent, as evidenced by its behaviors, physical attributes and diet. All of the behaviors that earned the bird its clueless and clumsy reputation were surprisingly intentional—eating rocks to aid digestion, developing knees to help traverse uneven and rocky terrain, becoming flightless, nesting on the ground and having no biological reason to fear the humans and animals that eventually eradicated the species.

Evidence in Evolution

Their evolution is a prime example of just how vulnerable and ill-equipped the species had become. Dodos, growing larger in body and smaller in wingspan, built their nests on the ground. And in these low-lying nests, couples laid only one egg per year. Without the threat of predation, there’s no biological reason for any animal to expend energy to protect itself from predators. Plus, the dodo was anything but small—plump and clocking an impressive average height of three feet. Ultimately, the bird’s trusting nature and hearty size made the dodo—and its egg—an easy and filling meal for hungry newcomers.

Additional Stressors

The dodo’s situation was a complicated one, with no single cause for its extinction. However, some external conditions contributed to the worsening situation on Mauritius, indirectly affecting the struggling dodo population.

Rising Sea Levels.
Climate shift lead to monsoonal collapse and drought.
Dead-zones created as seawater replaced freshwater.
Influx of growth of cyanobacteria in dead-zones caused mass deaths of vertebrates.

Invasive Species

Crab-Eating Macaque

Macaca fascicularis

wild Pigs

Sus scrofa

Black Rats

Rattus rattus

Domestic Goats

Capra hircus

Javan Deer

Rusa timorensis

Colossal is partnering with MWF to restore habitats, revive endangered species and support dodo rewilding plans.

“The dodo, a bird woven in the DNA of Mauritius, is sadly iconic for the role mankind played in its extinction. It symbolizes efforts to prevent species extinctions. We are so grateful for Colossal’s technologies and the promise to return this iconic species to its native environment.”
- Vikash Tatayah, Director of Conservation at MWF.



Nesoenas mayeri
The voice of the pink pigeon consists of a flight call that is a short, hardened”hoo hoo”

  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Columbiformes
  • Family: Columbidae
  • Genus: Nesoenas
  • Region: Mauritius
  • Avg. Length: 14.2 to 15” | 36 to 38 cm
  • Avg. Weight: 12oz | 350g
  • Est. Current Population: 375 to 490

[ Status : Vulnerable ]

Historical Extinction


The story of evolution is one of continuous change, adaptation and survival against all odds. In the vast tapestry of avian evolution, the pink pigeon weaves a tale as complex and vulnerable as that of its dodo relatives.

Native to Mauritius, this once-thriving bird fell victim to the usual threats. Human-caused factors like habitat destruction, the introduction of invasive species and, for a brief period, predation effectively culled the unsuspecting species—drawing stark parallels to its extinct neighbors.

[ Mauritius Island ]
Ref 0170
Dodo De-Extinction

By 1994, there were only 77 pink pigeons left in the wild.


While the dodo disappeared, the pink pigeon held on—partially because its flesh is toxic and causes stomach pain and vomiting, redirecting both human and animal predators toward a more palatable meal. Still, pink pigeon populations have been on the decline ever since.

In addition to decimating factors like habitat loss, the species falls victim to genetic bottlenecking and fatal illness caused primarily by the Trichomonas gallinae parasite, which is thought to kill over half of all pink pigeon chicks born on the island.

Despite its dire nature, this bird’s situation serves as a mirror—reflecting our own environmental responsibilities and raising the stakes for conservation efforts worldwide.

Extinction Warning >>>>

The pink pigeon is predicted to go extinct in the next


years without intervention.

Pink Pigeon’s
a Delicate Balance


The pink pigeon’s delicate, rose-tinted plumage stands as a testament to nature's creativity. Unfortunately, mankind’s attraction to the equally-stunning island of Mauritius inadvertently drove the pink pigeon—among other endemic avian species—towards the precipice of extinction. With its natural habitats overtaken by urban sprawl and native food sources diminishing, the pink pigeon’s survival hung in a delicate balance on more than one occasion.

And yet, like the gray wolf, the pink pigeon showcases the incredible resilience inherent in nature. Through captive breeding programs and initiatives to rejuvenate its natural habitat, conservationists have tirelessly worked to reverse its dwindling numbers. However, inbreeding—a consequence of its limited gene pool—casts a shadow over these efforts, threatening to undermine the very progress achieved.


“De-extinction is an engine of innovation that is directly applicable to conservation. Finally, we will be able to address and remedy many conservation-specific problems.”

Matt James

Colossal Chief Animal Officer




Colossal’s unwavering commitment to species conservation has allowed our team to develop revolutionary methods of preserving, diversifying and bolstering genetics—dramatically increasing the pink pigeon’s chance at long-term survival. Our revolutionary advancements in biobanking and genetic rescue technology promise to counteract the effects of inbreeding, presenting a beacon of hope for this species’ future.

Visit the Science &
Technology Page +

Still, the journey is far from over. The narrative of the pink pigeon serves as a reminder that every species plays a pivotal role in maintaining Earth's intricate ecological fabric. But it’s their history—not their population status—that should inspire our actions and shape the legacy we leave behind for future generations.



  • It is important to have nearly error-free reference genomes that can be used to address some of the fundamental questions in biology and speciation. We will create high quality avian genomes which can be used for multi-genome alignments, comparative analyses, and phenotype predictions that will guide our genome editing.
  • Genotype to Phenotype predictions are at the heart of genome editing turning back the hands of time. Predictions will be informed by comparative analyses, computational biology, machine learning and empirical methods. Ultimately, new insights will improve our understanding of how mutations affect adaptation and speciation, informing the de-extinction of our next avian species.
  • Growing wild bird primordial germ cells (PGCs) may pose an obstacle to progress and we intend to overcome this via a broad screening approach. A variety of conditions will be tested to optimize the growth parameters of our Nicobar pigeon PGCs.
  • This broad screening strategy will enable us to culture many other bird species’ PGCs in preparation for future conservation and de-extinction efforts.
Interspecies Surrogacy
  • To speed up production of the dodo, we will work to advance the state of the art in avian reproduction by demonstrating interspecies germline transfer of pigeon PGCs into a surrogate chicken host. This technology could have an immediate impact on avian research and conservation of threatened pigeon species across the globe.
Target Species 4 / 5
  • Dodo - Our target species for genetic restoration, and the future symbol of species de-extinction.
  • Nicobar Pigeon - The dodo’s closest living relative will provide the host cells/genome for engineering.
  • Rodrigues Solitaire - The dodo’s closest genetic relative will provide genomic insights into what makes the dodo so fabulous.
  • Chicken - The foundation of avian genomics and editing technologies starts with chickens, the most populous bird in the world.
Editing Tools
  • In our attempt to de-extinct creatures by using proximal genomes, our timelines are at the mercy of the number of edits that can be done efficiently with the tools that exist. Though the technology is rapidly developing, the ability to make multiple edits simultaneously remains quite low. We will work to improve the state of the art in multiplex genome editing to enable higher throughput engineering, as well as the pursuit of more distantly related species de-extinctions.
  • By combining our many strengths at Colossal, we will employ a machine-learning approach for the directed evolution of more efficient editing tools that can shorten our timelines for success.
  • Recognizing the incredible need for genetic restoration and having defined avian protocols for the available editing technologies, we aim to automate our methods to create a genome editing pipeline which can handle an entire avian de-extinction platform.

And the Final Step . . .

& HATCHing


The dodo is a symbol of man-made extinction. A glaring example of the price of carelessness. Colossal is committed to reviving species lost to extinction in an effort to build a better world. Therefore, it is our intention to partner with the government of Mauritius to establish a foundation for the de-extinction and rewilding of the beloved bird we all dearly miss. And finally, the people of Mauritius have been patiently waiting for the dodo's return, doing their part to care for their habitat and keeping the land in a natural, healthy state.

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A Better World here +