A Dodo for the Senckenberg Museum
Zoological taxidermist Hildegard Enting has worked out the live reconstruction of a dodo (Raphus cucullatus).
The dodo, also known as the dronte, was a flightless pigeon bird that lived in the Indian Ocean on Mauritius. In 1598, sailors first reported seeing the bird, 100 years later it was extinct. Today, it iconically represents species that were wiped out by humans. Sailors headed for the island on the East Indies route and took the birds with them as provisions on long sea voyages. The main reasons for the extinction of the dodo, apart from hunting, were introduced rats and domestic animals that destroyed the nests of the ground-nesting birds.
The rare museum specimens of the dodo worldwide are almost exclusively skeletons. Only one head with mummified skin without feathers is preserved in Oxford. A mummified foot is believed to be lost. Apart from these relics, the appearance of the dodo can only be reconstructed from contemporary drawings and paintings. Based on these sources and taking into account current research findings, Zoological taxidermist Hildegard Enting has created a living reconstruction of the dodo which has been on display at the Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt since February 23, 2019.
Only a few illustrations and reports from the 17th century describe the appearance and behavior of the dodo. Hildegard Enting has studied them intensively and examined the current state of research. The zoological prepartor has consulted different sources for different features of the bird. The tail plumage and coloration are based on a 17th century miniature depiction by the Indian artist Ustad Mansur. Unlike other depictions, the tail feathers are rather inconspicuous and smaller in design. The conspicuously strong legs and curved tapering bill are well documented in drawings and descriptions in ship logbooks of the Gelderland (1601-1603). Following written accounts, Enting has given the eyes a light color with a slightly yellowish glow.
The plumage is very important for the later overall appearance of the reconstruction. Marco Fischer, taxidermist at the Erfurt Museum of Natural History and owner of the company Bio-Design, has already worked on a dodo reconstruction himself for the Erfurt Museum of Natural History and published a paper on it in 2015 („Rekonstruktion eines Dodo (Raphus cucullatus L., 1758) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Anatomie, Funktionalität und Lebensweise“ in Vernate 34/2015). Thus, he was a good candidate to execute the feathering task. His research on feather structures, also with regard to the birds’ habitat, led Marco Fischer to the plumage of eared pheasants. The feather samples were so convincing that the ear pheasant plumage he had already used for the Erfurt dodo would now also suit the Frankfurt dodo. A regular comparison with Enting’s ideas led to the result she wanted.
Hildegard Enting’s reconstruction captivates through the liveliness of its depiction. Her dodo is not depicted as a rigid specimen, but as an animal that seems alive and is captured in its movement. Her wish was to create an encounter between the viewer and the object: “When our museum visitors look into the eyes of the dodo and have the feeling that it is looking at them – then our job is done,” says Enting.
Hildegard Enting was supported by Senckenberg ornithologist Dr. Gerald Mayr, by Dr. Bernd Herkner, former head of the museum department at Senckenberg, by Marco Fischer, taxidermist at the Natural History Museum in Erfurt, and by the dodo’s sponsors Dr. Claudia Giani-Leber and Dr. Hendrik Leber.