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early 18th C.
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Reunion Solitaire Images
The Reunion Ibis or Runion Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis solitarius) is an extinct bird species that was native to the island of Runion. It is perhaps the same bird discovered by Portuguese sailors there in 1613. Until 1995, it was assumed to have been a relative of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus), it was thus classified as a member of the didine pigeons (subfamily Raphinae) and called the "Runion Solitaire" (Raphus solitarius). It has since been moved to the Threskiornithidae family, of which it is the only known extinct species.
The supposed "White Dodo" of Runion is now believed to have been an erroneous conjecture based on contemporary reports of the Runion Sacred Ibis, combined with paintings by Pieter Withoos and Pieter Holsteyn from the 1600s of white Dodos that surfaced in the 19th century. Willem Ysbrandtsz. Bontekoe, who visited Runion around 1619, mentioned that it was inhabited by "Dod-eersen", though without mentioning colouration: When his journal was published in 1646, it was accompanied by a copy of Roelant Savery's "Crocker Art Gallery sketch". A white bird on Runion was first described as follows in 1625 by Chief Officer J. Tatton: Baron Edmund de Slys-Longchamps coined the name Raphus solitarius for these birds in 1848, as he believed the accounts referred to a species of Dodo. When 17th century paintings of white Dodos were discovered by 19th century naturalists, it was assumed they depicted these birds. Walter Rothschild suggested that the reason the painted specimens had yellow wing-tips instead of black as in the old descriptions might have been albinism. It was also suggested that differences in paintings were due to sexual dimorphism. Others believed it was a species similar to the Rodrigues Solitaire, as it was referred to by the same name, or even that there were white species of both the Dodo and Solitaire on the island. The Pieter Withoos painting, which was discovered first, appears based on an earlier painting by Pieter Holsteyn, three versions of which are known to have existed. According to Julian Hume and Anthony Cheke, it appears that all depictions of white Dodos were based on a single painting or copies of it, showing a whitish specimen, made by Roelant Savery in ca. 1611 called "Landscape with Orpheus and the animals". This was apparently based on a stuffed specimen then in Prague; a walghvogel described as having a "dirty off-white colouring" was mentioned in an inventory of specimens in the Prague collection of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to whom Savery was contracted at the time (16071611). Savery's several later images all show grayish birds, possibly because he had by then seen another specimen. It has also been suggested that the light plumage was a juvenile trait, a result of bleaching of old taxidermied specimens, or simply due to artistic license. Since Runion was not visited by Europeans until 1635, the 1611 painting could not have shown a bird from there. In 1987, fossils of a recently extinct species of ibis from Runion with a relatively short beak, Borbonibis latipes, were described, before a connection to the Solitaire reports had been made. Anthony Cheke suggested to one of the authors, Francois Moutou, that the fossils may have been of the Runion Solitaire, and this suggestion was published in 1995. The ibis was also reassigned to the genus Threskiornis, now combined with the specific epithet la from the binomial Raphus solitarius. Birds of this genus are also white and black with slender beaks, which fits the old descriptions of the Runion Solitaire. No fossil remains of Dodo-like birds have ever been found on the island.
Old accounts described it as having white plumage, with black wingtips and tail. A fossil upper jaw showed that the bill was short and straight for an Ibis. All in all, it looked much like a small Sacred Ibis with short wings and beak. Sieur D. B. (Dubois) described it as follows in 1674:
The Reunion Ibis lived solitarily in deep forests, likely near freshwater, where it fed on invertebrates like worms and crustaceans which it caught or dug out of the mud with its long beak. The only mention of its diet is by Feuilley in 1705: If threatened, it is described to have tried to get away on foot, but using its wings for assistance and to glide short distances, especially downhill. The old vernacular name "Runion Flightless Ibis" is thus misleading. Travellers' reports as well as bone measurements indicate that it was well on its way to flightlessness, but could still fly some distance on its own power after a running take-off. Carr of the French East Indies Company attempted to send two solitaires to the royal menagerie in France, but they never arrived, as they refused to eat or drink. In 1699 he described its behaviour thus:
The last account of the "Runion Solitaire" was recorded in 1705, indicating that the species probably became extinct sometime early in that century.