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Mauritius was once covered in thick evergreen mountain forest. The waters 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. In doing so, for want of survival or commercial  gain, he upset forever the delicate ecological balance that had existed for so many years.

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 earth.

The demise of the dodo was followed by the decimation of virgin forest. Shipbuilding, sugar a road and rail network for its transportation, the creation of upland settlements and the introduction of animals and invasive plants over three centuries of human settlement destroyed the island's indigenous forests.

The need to preserve the indigenous forests of Mauritius, as in other countries of the world, was realised too late and  today less than 1 per cent of the original forest remains. Most of it lies to the south of Plaine Champagne in the Bel Ombre-Macchabee Forest. Great forts are being made by the government and the Forestry Department to preserve what is left by educating the public to appreciate their ecological value. In this context patches of forest in other parts of the island have been declared natural reserves. Some of them are only a few square kilometres and are fenced off so as to encourage regeneration of indigenous trees and plants.


Photography by Natasha Constantinou


Today the forests are classified into three areas essentially consisting of Crown Forest Lands and privately owned forest lands. The Crown Forest Lands contain the nature reserves along with areas given over to tea plantations. The State owned forms a narrow coastal belt, which is occupied by public beaches, along much of it is leased to the hotel industry or used for grazing and tree planting programmes. Finally the privately owned forest lands are found in the upper slopes of mountains where many areas are densely covered with native forest or thickets of Traveller Palm.

Strict laws govern the use of forests including unauthorised felling or removing or trees, illegal possession of wood and trespassing on Crown Forest lands. In spite of this, forest recreation is becoming more popular with tourists and locals, and nature trails have been marked out in the Macchabee Forest. Walking independently is possible but a permit must be obtained from the Conservator of Forests. It may be advisable and preferable to join an organised walk with a tour operator or a local walking group when permission have been obtained. always obtain the permission of the owner if entering private forest.


Photography by Natasha Constantinou


There are fifteen nature reserves. Six are offshore islands and nine are on the mainland. The smallest of these, Perrier, Cabinet, Les Mares, Gouly Pere and Bois Sec, are dotted around the Tamarin Falls and Grand Bassin area and contain tiny traces of indigenous forest. Slightly larger nature reserves are found on the slopes of Le Pouce and Corps de Garde Mountain and at Combo in the Savannes Mountains. The largest is Macchabee-Bel Ombre which sweeps southwards from Mare Longue Reservoir across Plaine Champagne along the south-west slopes of the Savanne Mountains. It and Round Island are scientific reserves and are recognised under Category 1 of the United  Nations List of National Parks and Protected Areas.

But for all man's destruction the island is green and verdant. Sugar cane clothes the landscape and deep green velvety clusters of tea plantations stretch around the highlands of Curepipe. The island is a riot of colour throughout the year with bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchid, poinsietta and oleander growing in towns, parks, gardens and coastal areas. In summer Flamboyant and frangipani trees burst into brilliant bloom along the roadsides.


Photography by Natasha Constantinou

Photography by Natasha Constantinou


Indigenous trees such as the ebony are protected species and are found in the upland of the Macchabee Forest along with the natte tree and tambalacoque or dodo tree. The seed of the tambalacoque was so hard that it was difficult to germinate. Legend has it that the dodo is supposed to have softened the seed by passing it though its digestive system thereby enabling to germinate more easily. A specimen of the Bois Colophane batard, a sister of the extremely rare colophane can be seen at the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. The resin from these trees was used in the manufacture of plasters, ointments and varnishes.

Imported trees such as pine and eucalyptus grow profusely in the plateau areas. Great matted forest of Chinese Guava can be seen in Plaine Champagne and the Black River Gorges with fan shaped Travellers Palm while bottle palm, looking like chianti bottles, adorn roundabouts between Port Louis and Curepipe.


Photography by Natasha Constantinou


It would be hard to do justice to a Mauritian beach without reference to the whispering filao or casuarina trees. They are a feature of virtually every beach and their feathery dark green branchlets provide an excellent shelter from winds and tropical sun. The tree was introduced to Mauritius by the French explorer and  cartographer Abbe Alexis Rochon in 1778. Nearly one hundred years later the British Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, ordered that the casuarina, being salt-tolerant, quick growing and undemanding, should be planted around the coastline as part of a tree and water conservation system.


   Photography by Natasha Constantinou


In the lowland areas imported trees consist of acacia, coconut palm, albizia, the badamier or Indian Almond and the banyan. The mangrove  is found in the brackish swamps of the east coast.

Public gardens are found all over the island and are worth visiting. Fine specimens of trees and plants can be found at Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens 7 miles(4km) to the north of Port Louis. Curepipe boasts its own small, but beautiful botanical garden where, the viah palm from Madagascar grows in an attractive lake.








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Content of Website 1999 by Mauritius UK Connection


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