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Goodbye Great Auk
by John Kuti
In those days, people still lived on the islands of Saint Kilda. Two men from the village went out on the rock. They found a big strange bird. It was sleeping. They decided to bring it home to the village.
Far out into the ocean to the north and west of Britain are the cold wild islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. They make a line of beautiful beaches 150 miles long. Further west is the small group of islands called Saint Kilda. They are cold and wild too, but without beaches. The islands are tall volcanic rocks hundreds of metres high.
For thousands of years, people lived on these islands. In 1930 the last people, there were only 36 of them, had a meeting and decided to leave. The biggest island in the group is called Hirta. Sheep still live there without any people. When you arrive by boat, you see very tall black rocks all around. Some big rocks make their own small islands. This true story happened on the tallest of the rocks – “Stac An Armin” in 1840.
In those days, people still lived on the islands of Saint Kilda. Their stone houses were all in one village by the ocean at the bottom of a tall dark hill. The houses only had one room – for people and sheep, which used to live with them in the winter and spring. Two men from the village, McDonald and McKinnon, were on the rock. It was their work to collect birds – some for food, some to make shoes or hats with. Some dead birds they put in the earth to help their vegetables grow. They found one strange big bird. It was sleeping. They decided to bring it home to the village.
I think people in the village were interested in the bird. We now know that this was a Great Auk, a kind of swimming bird that lived in many parts of the North Atlantic. It was big and strong and had a loud cry. They began to talk with the other people in the village about what they should do with it. After two days, the weather got worse and then there was a terrible storm. The people in the village decided that this was because of the bird and they killed it. This was the last example of the Great Auk in Britain. Four years later, the last Great Auk in the world died in Iceland.
We know the Great Auk died out because of people. But where did the people of Saint Kilda go? This is more difficult to explain. Some say that they were bored living on the island so far from modern cities. Other people think that the problem was tourists, who began to visit Saint Kilda at the end of the 19th century. A new theory says that using too many dead birds as fertilizer made their food unhealthy. I think it was a mistake to kill the auk.