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Book review: Dead as a Dodo

When it comes to being extinct, the first name that leaps to one’s mind is the Mauritian flightless dodo. After all, the dodo bird went extinct in the late 1600s and even has a famous morbid phrase dubbed after it. But in Venita Coelho’s Dead as a Dodo, the extinct bird gets a new lease of life. After Coelho’s first book, Tiger by the Tail, Agent No 11.5 Rana makes a comeback, along with Agent No 002, Bagha the brave tiger; and Agent No 13, Kela, the mischievous and always-in-trouble grey langur. Rana has a special gift — he can use ‘JungleSpeak’ to communicate to animals, and for this skill, he’s part of the Animal Intelligence Agency.

Dead as a Dodo

This time around, the three protagonists are on Mission: Dead as a Dodo. While on the heels of a missing hangul deer, the trio stumble upon an extinction operation, where a shadowy villain is hell bent on stealing the last specimens of highly endangered species. Now, this villain has managed to lay his hands on an actual live dodo aka the Raphus cucullatus. Their adventure takes Rana, Bagha and Kela from Delhi to Mauritius to North America, in a quest to save the most endangered of species.

Coelho spins a real tale about conservation and international wildlife trafficking, while managing to keep the reader chuckling and guessing right until the very end. Her characters are spunky and the narrative is a lovely way of introducing children to different aspects of natural history.

William Hartston wrote in his book, The Things that Nobody Knows: 501 Mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything, about the coelacanth, a fish that was believed to be extinct for 65 million years ago, but was caught in 1938, by fishermen off the coast of South Africa. Unfortunately, Hartston adds that the chances of the dodo being alive are only three in a million. As the earth enters into its sixth extension phase — a recent report revealed that “vertebrates were vanishing at a rate 114 times faster than normal” — Dead as a Dodo takes on a special significance. As Coelho points out in her book, it’s in our hands to ensure that today’s endangered species, like the hangul deer, don’t go the way of the dodo.

Dead as a Dodo, Venita Coelho, Hachette India, Rs 350. Available at leading bookstores and e-stores

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