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An Elegy to the Elephant Bird

Elephant Bird
Aepyornis maximus

In 1658, the French governor of Madagascar described a giant bird
dwelling in the island's remote reaches. Over ten feet tall,

the bird weighed a thousand pounds and laid the biggest egg on record:
over a foot long and equal in volume to seven ostrich eggs,

180 chicken eggs, or 12,000 hummingbird eggs, large enough
to feed a whole family, as it likely did. The elephant bird

may have inspired the legend of the rukh, which Sinbad
encounters in The Thousand and One Nights,

and Marco Polo described as being strong enough
to seize an elephant with its talons. But its legendary might

couldn't save it; the few elephant birds that lived in isolated
valleys didn't last long, were believed gone by the end

of the seventeenth century. Four centuries later,
a single egg auctioned at Christie's in London

fetched more than a hundred thousand pounds.

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© Holly J. Hughes, Passings, published here courtesy of Expedition Press

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