Meet the Elephant Bird, a giant, extinct ostrich-like creature

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Elephant birds were 10 feet tall and weighed up to 1,700 pounds, but they were gentle giants that died out completely around 1,000 years ago.

Shankar S./FlickrAn elephant bird skeleton on display at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.

In the heyday of its time, the elephant bird was certainly a sight to behold. Thriving on the African island of Madagascar, Aepyornis maximus is considered the heaviest walking bird on the planet.

But for a very long time, many people doubted the very existence of the elephant bird, as they were often the subject of tales that seemed too fanciful to be believed. They were the main characters in fairy tales told by French nobles and the subjects of drawings that looked like fantastic illustrations.

Ultimately, however, they were real – and their habitats were so badly destroyed that they were wiped from the planet by 1100 BCE.

This is the story of the elephant bird, whose recent extinction due to human exploitation serves as a cautionary tale for us all.

Meet the Madagascar elephant bird

With conical beaks, short, slender legs, and massive bodies atop three-toed feet, the elephant bird looked like an ostrich—albeit very massive—at first glance. Etymologically, however, they were closer to the tiny New Zealand kiwi fruit than the huge land bird, according to the Paleobiology Journal. Capeia.

Aepyornis maximus thrived on the island of Madagascar, although they could not fly thanks to their massive size. And although it is not known what they lived on, it has been suggested that they had a plant-based diet like their distant bird cousins.

Kiwi bird

Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesDespite the elephant bird’s massive size, their closest living cousin is actually the tiny New Zealand kiwi.

The remains of the elephant bird were first identified by the French colonial commander, Étienne de Flacourt (1607-1660), who was living in Madagascar at the time. But it took until the 19th century and a French zoologist named Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire to describe the bird for the first time.

According to Saint-Hilaire, the bird could measure up to 10 feet and weigh up to a ton when fully grown. Moreover, their eggs were also quite massive: a fully developed egg could measure up to a foot high and almost 10 inches wide.

In short, they were hulking – yet gentle – land creatures that thrived on a small island off the coast of Africa for thousands of years. So what went wrong?

The extinction of the elephant bird

Simply put, it was most likely human behavior that caused the mighty elephant bird to go extinct.

A BBC A 2018 report found that for thousands of years humans and other wildlife have lived together in relative harmony on the island of Madagascar. But that all changed about a thousand years ago, when humans started hunting birds for meat.

Additionally, their eggs were also targeted, and many of their massive shells were used as bowls by those who hunted the mothers of the chicks. And this hunting, combined with the increasing climate change that was happening around the same time and the abrupt change in vegetation that kept the birds alive, drove them to extinction.

By 1100 BCE, the elephant bird was extinct.

Yet Dr James Hansford, a scientist from the Zoological Society London, told the BBC that despite this extinction event – ​​what some scientists call the “blitzkrieg hypothesis” – the extinction of birds provides insight into future conservation efforts.

“Humans appear to have coexisted with elephant birds and other now extinct species for over 9,000 years, apparently with limited negative impact on biodiversity for most of that time,” he said. at the point of sale.

But could recent new technology bring the elephant bird back to life?

Can elephant birds be brought back to life?

Thanks to movies like jurassic park, enterprising young scientists – and those who would – have theorized that they could, and perhaps should, resurrect the long-extinct elephant bird. A 2022 report from Virgin Radio in the UK revealed that scientists were on track to bring back the long-extinct dodo, with the promise that their de-extinction technology could resurrect the fluffy, flightless bird.

But could we do the same here? It’s possible. There are, of course, limits to de-extinction technology. Animals that had died millions of years ago, such as dinosaurs, could not be brought back to life. Their DNA is just too degraded from environmental issues and exposure to the elements.

The elephant bird, however, may well qualify for extinction – although scientist Beth Shapiro points out that there are ethical and environmental concerns surrounding the technology.

“As human populations increase, it is increasingly difficult to find places on our planet that have not been influenced in one way or another by human activity,” she said. declared to Smithsonian Magazine.

“De-extinction may not be the answer to the biodiversity crisis we face today, but the technologies that are being developed in the name of de-extinction can become powerful new tools in an active conservation regime. “, she continued. “Why not provide populations with some genomic assistance so they can survive in a world that is changing too rapidly for natural evolutionary processes to keep up with?”

For now, all that remains of the elephant bird are fossilized bones and remains of their huge eggs, some of which have sold for up to $100,000 at auction.


Now that you’ve read all about the elephant bird, read all about the Dracula parrot, the most “gothic” bird on the face of the earth. Then read all about the shoebill, the bird that can decapitate crocodiles and sounds like a machine gun.

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