The Elephant Egg

Elephant birds were a species of flightless birds unique to Madagascar that included the massive Aepyornis. Over 10m tall and weighing 400kg, it was the largest bird ever to walk the Earth. Scientists disagree as to the cause of its disappearance, which occurred sometime in the 17th century, but it seems clear that humans were responsible, either from eating the eggs or hunting the bird. Today the most poignant sign of these magnificent creatures is the shards of their eggshells, which litter the beaches of the cape. These were suitably enormous, with a circumference of 1m, and contained the equivalent of 160 chicken eggs.

They have been made famous by Sir David Attenborough, who featured his own reconstructed egg in his films on Madagascar. Complete eggs are also found. There is one at reception in Réserve de Nahampoana in Fort Dauphin, and one at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, which contains the skeleton of an unborn bird. Sensing commercial opportunity, people on the cape and elsewhere sell eggs made from various reconstructed fragments, usually using a great deal of plaster. It is not legal to remove these from the country.