Changing Planet

The Little Dodo of Samoa

The Mauritian dodo is the iconic emblem for both island conservation and extinction, sadly one of the birds lost from the Mascarene archipelago. One might often wonder how this strange bird could have originally been descended from a pigeon, but in Samoa we find the tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus strigirostris), otherwise known as the little dodo, or locally the Manumea. This strange pigeon is the only member of its genus (a measure of evolutionary uniqueness), and is also the national bird of Samoa.

Illustration of the little dodo (Drawing: John Gould)

Sadly, like the dodo, this species is on the fast-track to extinction. A perfect storm combination of cyclones, habitat loss and predation by introduced predators mean numbers have crashed from thousands in the 1980s to only rare sightings today. In particular cyclones which devastated Samoa in the 1990s are suspected of accelerating the decline. Extinction of island birds is still continuing today despite everything we know about their conservation plight and the urgency of conservation intervention. Luckily, we also know that direct intervention such as funding habitat conservation and pest control can save these species. Scientists estimate at least 16 bird species have been saved from extinction because of direct conservation intervention.

Hopefully the Manumea too will be saved. The fledgling Samoan Conservation Society is working with island conservation scientists from New Zealand and elsewhere to survey populations and establish a conservation programme, including captive-breeding, as part of wider work on the conservation of all Samoan birds. With backing and support the team are confident that extinction of the Manumea can be averted, as it has been for other species.

Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.

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