Meet the elephant bird, a giant extinct creature that looks like an ostrich

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

Shankar S. / flickrAn elephant skeleton is on display at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.

At the height of its era, the Elephant Bird was definitely a sight worth seeing. It thrives on the African island of Madagascar, Aepyornis the greatest It is believed to be the heaviest bird walking on the planet.

But for a long time, many people suspected 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 fairy-tale illustrations.

As it turns out, though, they were very real – and their habitats were so badly destroyed that they were wiped off the planet by 1100 BC.

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

Meet the elephant bird in Madagascar

With conical beaks, short, slender legs, and massive bodies over three toes, the elephant bird looked like an ostrich—albeit really huge—at first glance. Linguistically speaking, however, they were closer to the small New Zealand kiwi bird than to the gigantic land bird, according to the Journal of Paleontology. kibia.

Aepyornis the greatest It thrived on the island of Madagascar, although it could not fly thanks to its enormous size. And although it is not clear what they lived on, it has been suggested that they had a vegetarian diet like their distant bird cousins.

kiwi bird

Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesDespite the enormous size of the elephant bird, its closest cousin is actually the tiny New Zealand kiwi.

The remains of the elephant bird were first identified by the French colonial leader, Etienne de Flacourt (1607-1660), who lived in Madagascar at that time. But it took until the 19th century, and French zoologist Isidore Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, to describe the bird for the first time.

According to Saint Helier, the bird can reach 10 feet in height, and can weigh up to one ton, when fully grown. Moreover, their eggs were also quite huge: a fully developed egg could be about a foot in size, and about 10 inches wide.

In short, these were huge – but cute – wild creatures that had 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 Great Elephant Bird to become extinct.

a BBC A 2018 report revealed that for thousands of years, humans and other wildlife lived together in relative harmony on the island of Madagascar. But that all changed about a thousand years ago, when humans began to hunt birds for their meat.

Moreover, their eggs were also targeted, as many of their huge shells were used as receptacles by those who hunted chick mothers. And that hunting, combined with increased climate change that was taking place around the same time, and a sharp shift in vegetation that kept the birds alive, drove them to extinction.

By 1100 BC, the elephant bird became extinct.

However, Dr James Hansford, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, told BBC that despite this extinction event – what some scholars refer to as 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 more than 9,000 years, with apparently limited negative impact on biodiversity for most of this period,” he told the outlet.

But can modern new technology bring the elephant bird back to life?

Can elephant birds be brought back to life?

Thanks to movies like Jurassic ParkAdventurous young scientists—and those who desire it—have speculated that they could, and perhaps should, revive the long-extinct elephant bird. A 2022 report from UK’s Virgin Radio revealed that scientists were on track to bring back the long-extinct dodo, with promises that de-extinction technology could revive the fluffy, flightless bird.

But can the same be done here? It’s possible. There are limits, of course, to de-extinction technology. Animals that died millions of years ago – like dinosaurs for example – cannot be brought back to life. Their DNA is simply too degraded from environmental issues and exposure to the elements.

However, the elephant bird may qualify for extinction – although scientist Beth Shapiro notes that there are ethical and environmental concerns surrounding the technology.

“As the population grows, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find places on our planet that have not been affected in some way by human activity,” she said. Smithsonian Magazine.

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

For now, all that remains of the elephant bird are some fossilized bones and the remains of its enormous 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’s parrot, the most “gothic” bird on earth. Next, read all about the shoe, the bird that can cut off the head of crocodiles and looks like a machine gun.

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