Saving Australia’s Dodo

The legendary Dodo bird was lost to the world in the 1600’s, when it was hunted to extinction on the island of Mauritius, but few Australians would realise that a flightless island bird here has narrowly avoided the same fate – thanks to an amazing story of dedication, skill and cooperation.

The Woodhen: A Flightless Island Bird Defying Extinction is a fascinating book from CSIRO Publishing, authored by renowned ornithologist Clifford Frith.

A native of the magnificent Lord Howe Island, the iconic local Woodhen (also known as the Lord Howe Rail) was at the very brink of extinction, with just 15 individuals found in 1980. Bold and risky actions were taken to save it.

“For millennia it fearlessly walked unmolested,” Mr Frith notes.  “Within a mere 138 years of human settlement, the trusting and highly edible bird was all but gone from the face of the Earth – with as few as five breeding pairs still alive.”
Pristine Lord Howe Island was discovered in 1788 and was permanently settled in the 1830s, with the arrival of humans and rats wiping out many local birds.   The book documents the various species driven to extinction – a fate that almost befell the Woodhen.

The Woodhen examines the origins of Lord Howe Island and its wildlife, as well as the origins, evolution and extinction of flightless rails.

The book details our early knowledge of the Lord Howe Island Woodhen, the decimation of its population, and the bold management plan that is slowly reviving the species.

Just as humans took the Woodhen to the brink of extinction, it has been intrusive and intensive methods that have come to the rescue – in the form of a smart and dedicated team.

Mortality in the wild remains a significant issue and Frith argues that even more should be done, by setting up breeding programs on predator-free islands and at reputable institutions. For despite great gains, the Woodhen remains in danger.

The Woodhen: A Flightless Island Bird Defying Extinction   Author: Clifford B. Frith

Source: CSIRO media.  Illustration By John Gould (1804-1881).