The waters of Mauritius
was teemed with armies of giant turtles, dugongs and fish. Bats, birds and insects feasted
on natural resources and the dodo waddled along deserted beaches blissfully unaware than
when man arrived in the sixteenth century he would shake the harmony of its existence.
Many of these creatures
shared the same fate as the dodo. The gigantic turtle-like bird, with a hard twisted beak
and tiny wings had never experienced danger. It had forgotten how to fly and made easy
prey for the first Dutch settlers. Within a few years it was wiped off the face of the
The only indigenous
mammals of Mauritius were two species of fruit bat, one of which is now extinct and three
species of insectivorous bats. A cousin, the Rodrigues fruit bat was until recently also
threatened with extinction. A successful colony now exists at the government Aviaries at
The Mauritius Golden
Bat or flying fox is more common. It swoops over highland forests at nightfall in search
The deep was introduced
from Java in 1639 to supply meat to the first settlers. Deer farming is well established
in the Case Noyale and Le Morne areas. Less timid deer can be seen in the enclosure at
Other imported species
are the Macaque monkey which was introduced by the Portuguese in 1528 from Malaysia. They
move in great bands in the forests of the Black River area and can be trained as domestic
pets. The tenrec, a tailess hedgehog-like creature came from Madagascar in the late
nineteenth century and thrives in gardens and cane fields living on insects. The mongoose
from India, was introduced in 1900 to combat the rat population that threatened the
sugar cane. It multiplied so fast that it has in fact become a nuisance. Wild boar are the
descendants of the domestic pig introduced by the Portuguese. They feed on sugar cane.
Other introduced animals include the Indian hare, goats, dogs and the hump-back cow
or Zebu from Madagascar.
" A herd of goat crossing the road
The agama, commonly and
wrongly referred to as the camaleon by Mauritians, comes from India and is brown or green
with black markings. It has a slight crest on the head, long legs and a long tail.
There are no poisonous
snake on the island. The only snake is the couleuvre from India which is pale brown
with chocolate and gold markings on its back. It is nocturnal and aggressive if disturbed.
Most of the birds found
in Mauritius have been introduced. Out of an estimated twenty-six endemic birds only nine
species remain. Of these only, the pic-pic or grey white eye, a small greyish bird with a
white rump is common. Vulnerable species include the cuckoo shrike, the merle and
the olive white-eye. The population of the Mascarene paradise-flycatcher is small and its
survival in the wild is threatened by nest-raiding monkeys while the delightful scarlet
red headed Mauritius fody or Cardinal, reputed to bring luck if it enters the home, is in
danger of disappearing.
Funded by international
Conservation agencies captive breeding of the Mauritius Kestrel has been a success
although the population is still fragile. Even greater success was achieved with the Pink
Pigeon another endangered species, which can be seen at Casela Bird Park. The most
endangered endemic bird in Mauritius is the Echo Parakeet of which perhaps about a dozen
remain. Experiments to breed it in captivity are being carried out at the Black
River government aviary to save it from total extinction.
Introduced or exotic
birds thrive well in Mauritius. They can be observed pecking in the sand by beachside
bungalows, in open country, at Pamplemousses Gardens or in the aviaries at Casela Bird
Park. Birds from India include the red whiskered bulbul, identifiable by its black
witch-like crest and red feathered bill, the bluish-black House Crow and the Mynah, a
large brownish bird with a yellow bill and yellow feet which can be taught to speak. The
spotted dove and the zebra dove from Malaysia can be seen feeding on open land. The ring
necked parakeet, not to be confused with the Echo parakeet (a brilliant large green
bird that was introduced in 1886) can be seen where there is a surplus of grain.
Serpent Island (which
has no snakes) is the habitat of colonies of seabirds, including the blue faced booby the
noddy and the sooty tern. Colonies of the wedge-tailed shearwater, the Trinidade petrel
and the graceful red-tailed tropic bird nest on Round Island. Its white-tailed
cousin swoops through the gorges of the Black River. Also known as the paille-en-queue
(straw in the tail), it has been adapted as the Air Mauritius logo.
Shore and marsh birds,
driven to Mauritius by air currents or bad weather, include the whimbrel, the common and
curlew sandpiper, the sand plover and the turnstone.