Everyone knows (don't they?) that Mauritius was once home to the
ultimate endemic - the Dodo. Sadly, we were over 300 years too late
for that, and also long gone are the endemic Blue Pigeon, Rail,
Owl, Parrot and several others. All is not doom and gloom, however
- there are some heartening conservation success stories to be found
on the island.
Mauritius is marketed as a "paradise island", but as
far as we could see, most of it is truly trashed - sugar cane, golf
courses and shoddy little towns with horrible concrete shacks everywhere.
The coast is pretty, it's true, and the mountains look great from
a distance, but you have to visit one of two sites to see the endemic
birds and get some sense of how Mauritius might once have been before
successive waves of European settlers knackered it.
The first is Ile aux Aigrettes, a tiny, low islet just of Point
d'Esny, on the south-eastern corner of the island, luckily (actually,
skillfully by Simon!) just a few hundred metres from our hotel at
Villa les Guerlandes, a comfortable and small beachfront hotel.
Greeted by an exceptionally friendly and helpful guide, we had
a fantastic couple of hours on the island, exploring the regenerating
ebony scrub and seeing stacks of endemics - including Aldabra
Tortoise (OK, not an endemic Mauritian species, but you need
these beasts to regenerate the forest, it seems), Ornate Day
Gecko and Telfair's Skink (the latter a relocation job
from Round Island).
But the stars were the birds - plenty of Pink Pigeons, several
Mauritius Fodies among the introduced Red Fodies,
and best of all, a pair of allopreening Mauritius Olive White-eyes,
a vanishingly rare species which is also the subject of a captive
breeding programme - so strictly untickable.
Back on the mainland, we added the widespread endemic Grey White-eye,
plus Little Swift, Zebra Dove, Madagascar Turtle
Dove, and the stupidly ubiquitous Indian Mynah.
The other key sites are in the forest block of the Black River
Gorges area. On the return trip from Madagascar, we hired a car,
and chose to concentrate on Macchabee Ridge. Sadly, we managed to
miss the Mauritius Kestrel completely in poor weather, and our only
parakeets were Rose-ringed - although an ID debate continues
with the one pictured on this page - is it an Echo Parakeet?
Opinions are welcome.... However, we did see the endemic Mauritius
Cuckoo-shrike (400 individuals in the world) and Mauritius
Bulbul (about the same), plus many White-tailed Tropicbirds
over the forest (thus completing our world family list of these
aethereal stunners - but there are only three of them!) and some
Mascarene Swiftlets - another lifer!