The Aepyornis was a genus of flightless bird. These large birds, which were native to Madagascar, have been extinct since at least the 16th century. The Aepyornis was the world's largest bird, believed to have been over three metres (10 feet) tall and weighing more than half a ton. Remains of the Aepyornis' eggs have been found, and in some cases have has a circumference of over one metre (three feet). Their ancestry is not clear but there appear to have been three species; A. hildebrandti, A. medius, and A. maximus. The Aepyornis was a ratite, meaning it could not fly as its breast bone had no keel.
The National Geographic Society in Washington holds a specimen of an Aepyornis egg which was discovered by Luis Marden in 1967. The specimen is intact and contains an embryonic skeleton of the unborn bird.
Whilst it is often believed that the extinction of the Aepyornis was an effect of human actions, a study in 2000, by a team of archaeologists from Sheffield University and Royal Holloway University in the UK, suggests otherwise. Their study in Madagascar aimed to investigate human relationships with this bird. Research reports from Sheffield University stated that there was no evidence for the suggestion that the bird had been hunted to extinction. The archaeologists also believe that the killing of the bird may have been taboo as no evidence was found that it had been killed for food.
The modern Malagasy name for the bird is Vorompatra, meaning marsh bird. They are commonly known as the 'elephant bird', a term that originated from Marco Polo. It has also been suggested that the legend of the Roc may have originated from this bird.