Oxford Dodo: World’s Most Famous Dodo, Which Reportedly Inspired ‘Alice In Wonderland,’ Was Killed By Shotgun

Illustration from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” depicting Alice and the Dodo.
Morphart Creation / Shutterstock

The Oxford dodo may be long gone, but its image lives on in the hearts of everyone who fell in love with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Although extinct since the mid-1600s, the Oxford dodo — believed to have inspired Carroll’s dodo character in the 1865 book — remains beloved by many and still captures the imagination.

The last remaining evidence of the bird’s existence — its mummified skull and foot — have found a home at Oxford University’s Natural History Museum in the U.K., where they have been resting for the last 300 years (hence the “Oxford dodo” moniker).

Our fascination with this flightless bird — rumored to have been kept alive for entertainment in a 17th century London townhouse, Live Science notes — has understandably sparked curiosity about the way the Oxford dodo met its demise.

A team of scientists from the University of Warwick has finally found the answer, reports Newsweek.

The researchers — led by Prof. Paul Smith, the museum’s director, and Prof. Mark Williams from the university’s Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) in England — were initially looking to uncover more insight into how the Oxford dodo lived. Instead, they ended up unveiling how this famous bird died.

“The Oxford Dodo is an important specimen for biology, and because of its connections with Lewis Carroll it is of great cultural significance too,” said Prof. Smith.

Illustration from Lewis Carroll's
Illustration from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ depicting Alice and the Dodo. Morphart Creation / Shutterstock

It seems that this magnificent bird was erased from existence by the use of a shotgun, reveals a news release by the university.

The team studied the dodo’s precious remains — the most complete non-fossilized remains ever collected and the only sample of soft tissue known to exist — and came across an unexpected find.

Forensic CT scanning of the skull and foot revealed the presence of “mysterious particles” inside the skull, which later were identified as lead shot pellets. This shows the Oxford dodo was killed by a gunshot “to the neck and the back of the head,” states the news release.

“This is a flightless bird, so obviously, somebody snuck up behind the poor thing and just shot it in the head,” Prof. Williams said in a statement.

According to the university, the shot didn’t penetrate the skull. This bit of information captured on the CT scans, which were performed at WMG, has now helped researchers find out that the bird’s skull was “very thick,” a detail previously unknown.

Another important revelation that stemmed from this analysis is that the Oxford dodo displayed at the museum may have actually lived in the wild. The lead shot pellets discovered in the bird’s skull are consistent with the ones “typically used to hunt wildfowl during the 17th century,” shows the university.

This disproves the previous suppositions that the Oxford dodo housed at the museum is the same bird that was brought to London in 1638 as a live attraction for paying customers.

“Although the results were initially shocking, it was exciting to be able to reveal such an important part of the story in the life of the world’s most famous extinct bird,” Prof. Williams commented.

Due to their troubled past, dodo birds (Raphus cucullatus) have become a symbol for man-driven extinction. These creatures were first discovered in 1601 on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and disappeared almost immediately off the face of the Earth.

The intrusion of man on their native island spelled extinction for the dodos. The birds progressively lost their eggs, which became a source of food for both people and the animals that came with them.

The last time man has laid his eyes on a living dodo was in 1662.