Réunion ibis was endemic to the volcanic island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Travellers’ accounts from the 17th and 18th centuries described a white bird that flew with difficulty and preferred solitude. In the mid 19th century, the old travellers’ accounts were incorrectly assumed to refer to white relatives of the dodo. But the discovery of ibis subfossils led to the idea that the old accounts actually referred to an ibis species instead.
About Réunion ibis in brief
Réunion ibis was endemic to the volcanic island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Travellers’ accounts from the 17th and 18th centuries described a white bird on Réunion that flew with difficulty and preferred solitude. In the mid 19th century, the old travellers’ accounts were incorrectly assumed to refer to white relatives of the dodo. But the discovery of ibis subfossils led to the idea that the old accounts actually referred to an ibis species instead. The taxonomic history of the Réunion Ibis is convoluted and complex, due to the ambiguous and meagre evidence that was available to scientists until the late 20th century. The supposed ‘white dodo’ of R Réunion is now believed to have been an erroneous conjecture based on the few contemporary reports which described the RéUnion ibis, combined with paintings of white dodos from Mauritius by the Dutch painters Pieter Withoos and Pieter Holsteyn II from 17th century that surfaced in the 19th century. No one preserved the two individuals of the \”solitaire\” were ever sent to the royal menagerie in France, but it is thought he borrowed the name from a 1689 tract by Henri Duquesne which mentioned an earlier Réunion species. The two specimens of the Réunion ibis did not survive in captivity in France and Billiardie Bertie claimed that the French administrator had probably based his own description on an earlier description of an earlier species of ibis, which he called the Raphatine Raphine Raphine.
The name is thought to have come from an earlier French description of the species, which mentioned the Raphinne Raphines, a bird that he encountered on the nearby island of Rodrigues in the 1690s. It is thought that Billiardee claimed that an earlier French administrator had claimed the name of the Rafinne RAPHine on an earlier version of the Marquis duquesne’s tract, and that he used it for his own species of bird of choice. The Réunion Ibis was first scientifically described in 1987, and its closest relatives are the Malagasy sacred ibis and the African straw-necked ibis. It would have been no longer than 65 cm in length. Subfossil wingbones indicate it had reduced flight capabilities, a feature perhaps linked to seasonal fattening. Visitors to Réunion praised its flavour, and therefore sought after its flesh. These factors are believed to have driven the Ré union ibis to extinction by the early 18th century and it is believed that the ibis died out in the mid-19th century and is now thought to be extinct. It lived in mountainous areas, but may have been confined to these remote heights by heavy hunting by humans and predation by introduced animals in the more accessible areas of the island. It was more robust in build than its extant relatives.