A day of events to discuss the significance of the dodo took place last Wednesday (18 November).
'The Oxford Dodo: Culture at the Crossroads' was organised by Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). It formed part of the national festival of the humanities, Being Human.
It has been covered in more detail in a previous Arts Blog post.
On the day, the winners of a creative writing competition for schoolchildren were announced. More than 170 budding writers between the ages of 7 and 14 entered the contest, coming from 36 schools across the UK.
The competition was judged by children’s author Jasper Fforde, the Story Museum's Co-Director Kim Pickin, the University of Oxford's Knowledge Exchange Champion Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, the Museum of Natural History’s Scott Billings and Hannah Chinnery at Blackwell's.
The winners in the 7-10 age category were:
First place: Rhianna Gorman (age 10, Richard Durning's Endowed Primary School, Lancashire)
Second place: Joel Atkinson (age 9, Pencaitland Primary School, East Lothian)
Joint third place: Frances Watt (age 8, St Aloysius Primary School, Oxford) and Mimi Burrell (age 10, St Andrew's Church of England Primary School, Headington)
The winners in the 11-14 age category were:
First place: Hebe Robertson (age 11, Combe Primary School, Witney)
Second place: Evie Manton (age 11, Oxford Spires Academy)
Third place: Simi Tame (age 12, Perse Upper School Cambridge)
We are delighted to publish the winning entries below. Are you sitting comfortably?
The Last Dodo
By Hebe Robertson, 11, Combe Primary School in Oxfordshire
This is the story of my life, death and the bit afterwards.
The burning summer sun glared on my somewhat unattractive feathers. I was a good old Dodo, to my kind I was known as Dod, I lived on the tropical island of Mauritius. I still reminisce: the days of sunshine, the cool breeze and the gentle lapping of the waves on the white-sand beach. I remember the laughs we had, the parties and the many times I got a feather up my nose. Those were the days.
Then they came, in their indestructible, floating things, they came with sticks that shot death from their handles… They came, wave upon wave, brandishing their weapons. They hunted us down. One by one we were shot and killed. Cousin Frank, Auntie Melina- even my sister, Alice.
I hid in the jungle, shedding silent tears for my loved ones. Already pushing 30, I sat on my ruined nest. I sat and I waited. I, Dod was not going to be hunted like common game; I was going to be remembered as a hero: The Last Dodo.
It was a long night, that night. I, as quiet as a mouse, crept aboard their huge boat and found a box. I pecked my way in with my hemispherical beak and nestled inside. I sniffed.
It was full of my friend’s feathers! I sneezed like a foghorn! Believe it or not- feathers make me sneeze! My noise alerted one enormous man who strode through the open door, opened my box and pulled out his death-stick…
“STOP!” yelled another man, seeing what was happening. He came over to me, stroked my feet. He stared at me: a beaked, clawed, feathered stowaway. He smiled. “I’m a naturalist, don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said to me. I was allowed to stay on the boat and then, eventually, we began the long journey home.
It took many days and nights. One day, I was woken with a jolt; a bell roared at me to wake up, to rise and shine, but I couldn’t. All the travelling was so unnatural for a dodo that, on arrival, I was scared stiff. After 3 toilsome weeks on a ship: England.
That was over 300 years ago. After that voyage, I lived with that naturalist for 20 years, until I was finally admitted into the glorious kingdom of Dodily, the Dodo God. My life sadly ends here, at the ripe old age of 50, but my legacy lives on.
The naturalist kept me in a glass case in his house and I was passed down through the generations until 1873. That year, the Natural History Museum was built. Exhibits poured in. After a while, the Museum was completely full but the staff there managed to make room for one more: me.
You are welcome to see my bones on show. When you see me, remember my story: The story of The Last Dodo.
By Rhianna Gorman, Age 10, Richard Durning's Endowed Primary School in Lancashire
Emerging from the mist, I stalked around a tree, my feathers puffed out to protect me from the cold. Leisurely, I walked past a group of tall ferns. All was quiet.
Without warning, a noise I had never heard before gradually got louder. It sounded like the noise meant something, not just a call. The noise increased, I saw a group of giants, but not at all like me. They walked around on something called legs, (as I found out later) and had no feathers on their bodies.
Walking up to them, I could sense something wasn't right. We weren't safe. Then it struck me. I had seen creatures look like this before, thin and pale. They, the things, were hungry. For us, the dodo. Running as fast as I could, I caught a glimpse of an island that I had never seen before. As I reached the shore, I saw my friends staring at it too.
Dragging ourselves desperately, we half-flapped (I knew these wings would come in useful one day), half-swam across to the island. The 'things' were baffled. They couldn't understand where we were heading.
What I now know, which I didn't then, is that our magical island is invisible to the human eye. Over the years, our island drifted further away from the place where the humans live. A full group of us still thrive there now, although we have learnt to live in hiding.
Perhaps one day we will have the courage to leave our island, but whenever we consider it, we hear news of wars and conflicts from migrating birds. That puts us right off. I don't think humans will ever learn to be sensible, and stop killing animals off, like they nearly did to us.
Turns out, that humans think us dodos are dead. That they killed us off. Well, to be frank, they nearly did, they killed thousands of us. All those poor dodos that didn't see or notice the 'hungry' look, and approached rather than fled the humans.
And it's not just us dodos that have been saved by the magic of the island. It has been there to rescue the survivors of many other near extinctions. Today we share our island with great auks and passenger pigeons. We all know how lucky we are to be here and have learnt to be more careful.
I've heard that today's humans aren't so bad after all. They're sad we're no longer there with them. Thinking about it, I'm not sure they will kill many more things, some of them are actually trying to save threatened species.
That doesn't stop them killing other humans though! One day we will probably be discovered. Goodness knows what will happen. Who knows, they might actually help us. But that's unlikely....
The other winning and shortlisted entries can be read on the TORCH website.