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The Legend of the Elephant Bird

There are currently hundreds of documented birds that have gone the way of the dodo.

However, no species of bird can truly match the fascination and curiosity of the gigantic elephant birds once found on the island of Madagascar.

Last week, the BBC showed a fantastic documentary conducted by one of the main scholars of the elephant bird named David Attenborough. Though the documentary is unavailable to watch in the U.S. from the BBC website, you can watch it here, and it’s definitely worthwhile.

The elephant bird was once the world’s largest bird and amazingly lived during the same time as humans. Its name comes from the famous explorer Marco Polo who once mused that he saw a bird so large it could pick up an elephant in its talons and fly away. While the elephant bird could not fly and was not big enough to pick up an elephant, it was still massive.

The bird weighed about half a ton, stood more than 10 feet tall and laid an egg almost 200 times the size of a chicken egg.

So, what happened to this bird, which was widespread on the island of Madagascar? That’s the issue the documentary is trying to tackle.

Since the bird went extinct about 1,000 years ago, humans and elephant birds lived side by side on Madagascar for years, but there’s a major possibility that increasing human populations meant the death of the giant bird.

Human beings have a profound effect on the natural habitats of many species and even slight changes or hunting habits can result in the extinction of animals. That’s why there needs to be a more concerted effort toward the conservation of habitats similar to the recent initiative to save the Greater Sage-Grouse.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.