In 1609, the Sea Venture was en route to the new colonies in Jamestown, when it fell foul of Bermuda’s notorious reef system and was shipwrecked. The desperate survivors were delighted to find that the island had been stocked with pigs, since food was scarce in their temporary home. They also supplemented their pork diet with the remaining Cahows while they built ships to sail on to Virginia. Since the birds evolved without any mammalian predators, they were remarkably easy to catch and kill. The rats that had jumped ship laid waste to more of the bird population.
The birds were thought to have been extinct as a breeding species for 330 years (except for a handful of possible sightings). But in 1951, a scientific expedition went to the islets around Castle Harbor, where 7 burrows were finally found. One of the expedition members was a schoolboy, David Wingate. Wingate was fascinated but the rediscovery of the Cahow, and after completing his degree, he went on to save the species, creating a sanctuary for the birds on another offshore island (Nonsuch) and working tirelessly to protect the birds for five decades. After years of painstaking conservation work, there are now over 100 pairs of birds (although it’s still the second rarest seabird in the world).
Picture By Anna Brassey, Baroness Brassey, G. Pearson and J. Cooper [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons