The Aepyornis or otherwise known as the the ‘elephant bird’ is a species of giant flightless bird that is believed to have become extinct around the 17th century. The Aepyornis was the largest species of bird in the world and was exclusive to Madagascar. Weighing at at around half a ton the Aepyornis was massive and was believed to grow to around ten feet in height.

As with the gigantic size of the Aepyornis the eggs of the Aepyornis were equally as large with some being recorded to exceed 3 feet in circumference. It is believed that the eggs of the Aepyornis were a valuable commodity and a much treasured food source among natives.

elephantbird1 Aepyornis
Aepyornis - Massive!
Aepyornis - Massive!

There are a number of theories that could explain the main reasons for the extinction of the Aepyornis ranging from climate change to human involvement. Some believe that humans didn’t as much consider the Aepyornis a food source as they did its eggs and the constant consumption of these eggs it thought to have thinned the population (then believed to span all of Madagascar) and eventually lead to extinction.

Others believe that the humans saw the Aepyornis as a primary food source as not only consumed the eggs but also regularly hunted the Aepyornis for meat. Both explanations are viable as fossils have been found of egg shells and Aepyornis bones with the marks of butchery alongside human fossils.

elephantbird2 Aepyornis
Aepyornis artist interpretation
Aepyornis artist interpretation

Sir David Attenborough brought up the idea of climate change also playing a part in the extinction of the Aepyornis explaining that human activity coupled with Madagascar drying out could have affected the Aepyornis’ population.

The term ‘elephant bird’ was apparently first used by Marco Polo who described an account of a bird that could ‘seize an elephant in its talons’ . This account may be an exaggeration or may refer to a much larger bird of flight. Some think that the Aepyornis may have been mistaken as chicks of the larger birds of flight.


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