Taking Advantage

Engraving of a female Rodrigues solitaire in front of a bush
I dreamt last night that I had been elected dictator for life of the Mauritian Birding Association.


After remodeling my palace and deporting my chief rivals, my aide and I started working on the mail. And there was a lot of it: communiqués from my secret list police, abject pleas for clemency from the notorious Gang of Five Feral Felines, solicitations from tailors eager to have a part in creating my coronation robes.

One brief missive really caught my attention, though. A young mother and her daughter wrote to say that they had been watching the birdies in their back yard when they noticed a rustling along the fence — and a Rodrigues solitaire strode calmly across the lawn.

Sorry. There is simply no way that a species last seen at the beginning of the eighteenth century could have escaped detection on my little island. The solitaire is gone, kaput, extinct forever. It’s a sad thing, but true. Dispiriting, but incontrovertible.

My aide rushed to his typewriter to begin the public ridicule. He hadn’t even reached the first carriage return, though, when I tore the creamy sheet of letterhead away — and reminded him of our exalted new position. Together, we wrote something else:

To Our Dear Loyal Friends and Subjects, We thank you for your communication of the 25th inst. Unfortunately, after so many years of unfruitful searches, we can say without any doubt that our lamented solitaire is extinct. While your sighting is interesting and of course sincere, you must have had a poor look at a more common, but still just as exciting, species. To thank you for your interest in our birds and their conservation, we are pleased to grant you a year’s membership in the MBA. We hope that you enjoy our flagship publication, Leguat’s Legate, and that you will continue to be in touch with your sightings and observations from what is a very interesting corner of our domain. Regally, etc.

I woke up feeling happy to have introduced two more of my fellow Mauritians to the joy of birding.

But alas, it was only a dream.