By April Stevens (W&M Managing Editor)
Generally on Wonders & Marvels, we chat about human history. Today we are going to look at the tale of our furry, and not so furry, friends (pun intended) . Since the dawn of time the game of predator and prey between men and animals has evolved, to the point where we consider some animals as mankind’s best friend. This week we will look at history of some remarkable animals, from extinct to domesticated.
Don’t Go the Way of the Dodo
We all now the story of the dodo bird, the strangely billed avian hunted to extinction by European explorers in the 17th century. However, you probably didn’t know that the Dodo bird almost went extinct 4,000 years earlier. What threat did the famous flock face? It’s own poop! Scientists researching the ancient lake, and fossil treasure trove, of Mare aux Songes in Mauritius have discovered that the feces mixed with the wetlands to create a deadly cocktail that almost killed off the Dodo amongst other animals.
That got us thinking about other species that “went the way of the Dodo”and what led to their extinction. Consider the great Wooly Mammoth, why didn’t it survive like it’s relative the elephant? Luckily for the W&M readers, scientists are closer to finding these answers. Recently scientists have examined the DNA of the Wooly Mammoth to find that genetic diversity amongst the population led to the animals decline, even before the end of the Ice Age.
From Man’s Best Friend, to Man’s Hero
If extinct species aren’t your thing, maybe you are more interested in the mammal sitting right next to you on the couch. The debate of cats vs. dogs may never be resolved, but it is a fact that the dog was the first animal that humans domesticated. So even if you don’t consider the canine man’s best friend, we could call him man’s oldest friend. Yet, until recently studies disagreed about exactly where and when dog domestication first occurred. Now an unprecedented cooperation between archaeologists and scientists is working together to solve this mystery. Read more about it in the recent issue of Science.
The domesticated dog is more than man’s oldest friend, these canine companions have often been man’s protector. A new exhibit at the Bishopsgate Institute celebrates the heroism of dogs in World War I. This collection, possibly the largest photo collection of dogs in the world, explores the role of dogs both as companions, workers, and heros from 1914-1918.
Don’t worry cat lovers, at W&M we are equal opportunity animal lovers. So is the Museum of Maritime Pets that is devoted to stories of the story of dogs and cats at sea. This online museum chronicles both the adorable and heroic seafaring companions. For example, it includes the tribute to 18th and 19th century explorer by Matthew Flinders for his cat Trinn, the first man-cat team to circumnavigate Australia. Read all about the museum at the Smithsonian’s website or visit the museum yourself: it’s only a click away!
If you are anxious to learn more about animal history, check out these recent stories:
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