Just before touching down at the international airport of Mauritius, I see a lovely island from my window. It so turns out to be Ile aux Aigrettes, where the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation are trying to re-estabish the original habitat of Mauritius at the time it was discovered, colonized, and changed forever. It is a protected area, and a short hop from the main island takes you to a jetty on the islet. Already in the small briefing building, I notice two giant tortoises - for a short while, I even think they are fake, until I see them move. Our guide explains that the original tortoises that once roamed the island are extinct, and these are introduced from Seychelles. After walking a short distance, we come to a pit where tortoises can breed, and to our surprise, the guide takes out two tiny tortoises from the ground: born less than 24 hours ago. She shows us how to handle them, and while we touch and caress them, she radioes her colleagues to tell them about the newly born. Holding the fragile animal between two fingers, feeling its claws tickle my skin and its heartbeat under its chest, it is hard to imagine this creature will grow to become like the others, and outlive me by many years. Unless one of the many predators will devour them, that is.
We walk a trail leading over the island, under low trees, and the guide shows which trees are endemic, and which ones are exotic and thus, eventually, must go. Meanwhile, we are constantly on the lookout of the endemic birds here, and see the olive white-eye speeding by, but always too fast to be captured on a picture. Then there is the Mauritian fody, equally small, but somehow a little less shy, which we can observe from up close. And the pink pigeon, literally on the brink of extinction in 1991 with only ten birds left, but now numbering hundreds. While we walk the trail, the guide explains how efforts are made to slip plants, to recreate the original habitat on the island, to regrow trees like ebony which was completely eradicated from the islands because of its high value. As a showcase, we see one dead ebony trunk with the precious black wood inside. Ebony grows very slowly at only a centimetre a year, is the heaviest wood, and because of continuous logging driven by its high price, gone from many parts of the world. It will take a while before ebony trees will be growing on Ile aux Aigrettes again.
Right in the forest is the statue of the dodo, the bird once unique to Mauritius, who did not survive the arrival of the intruders and their exotic animals like rats and pigs. On the ground, a long British cannon, which was never used, which will not be taken away, and which will probably lie here for decades to come. We are still on the lookout for the oldest tortoise but we cannot spot him. Then we come to a small shack which not only holds a small shop, but also a display of items made from materials found in Mauritius. Inevitably, replicas of endemic animals that are no more, in statues and drawings. Instruments in which ebony has been used. Statues made of precious wood. Now that we have realized the disastrous effect man can have on local habitats, and we make an effort to protect whatever is left, wouldn't it be awesome to fast-forward and see what the world, what Ile aux Aigrettes, would look like a few decades from now, when all those efforts have kicked in? Just a thought coming to mind on my way back to shore.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Ile aux Aigrettes (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Ile aux Aigrettes.
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