There's Still Time To Save Little Dodos From Extinction

It may be four centuries too late to save the iconic dodo from extinction, but there's still time enough to rescue the bird's diminutive relative from sharing that same fate. Yes, little dodos are alive, but they are not well.

Not much is known about little dodos aside from the fact that they're in peril, clinging to existence in a narrow patch of forest on the island of Samoa with likely fewer than 200 individuals remaining. Up until recently, after nearly 10 years passed without a sighting, many had feared that the species had already gone the way of its larger, ill-fated cousin.

But just last December, a rare sighting of a single juvenile bird sitting in a tree raised new hopes that there was still an opportunity to pull little dodos back from the brink.

"Everyone had questioned whether the bird still existed. Now we know it is still alive," says Moeumu Uili, a researcher with the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The little dodo, also known by the names Manumea and tooth-billed pigeon, have been pushed onto the endangered species list from threats like habitat loss, hunting and the introduction of non-native species. Unlike dodos, this species is capable of flight, which has no doubt been a factor critical to their survival. But that fact also makes it difficult for scientists studying how to protect them.

"We see them very rarely so it is always very exciting. They can cover large distances quite fast so following them is very difficult. Their speed is surprising since they do not look like they are designed for flight, they have short wings, short tail and a round bulky body," says researcher Rebecca Stirnemann, to "I have now heard them call a few times. The call is a mix of a cow 'moo' and a pigeon 'coo,' rather endearing."

Now that little dodos have proven a willingness to reproduce, Stirnemann has devised a plan to help make life easier for the next generation. But because tracking the birds through the thick tropical jungle as they fly overhead is difficult, the researcher has a plan to monitor them with drones.

"On sensing a weak signal from one postage-stamp-sized tag fixed to an animal, a drone can fly towards the creature on autopilot and retrieve the tag's data," she says. The data would reveal crucial information about their distribution, revealing which areas are most in need of protection.

Stirnemann admits that catching a little dodo to tag will be difficult, but not impossible.

But as with many conservation efforts, researchers understand that one of the most effective ways to prevent a species from going extinct is by raising public awareness of their existence, and why they are worthy of being saved. Stirnemann hopes to launch a crowd-sourced funding campaign this year to support the little dodo's survival, and not a minute too soon.

"One of the most critical things we need is the funds to hire local staff, a project car and pay for technology needed to track this species needs to be gathered before time runs out."