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On the Extinction Trail in Mauritius

What price preservation?

Location: Mauritius Island

Meet the Flintstones

If you watched the Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the 1960’s called The Flintstones, you might remember one of the things Fred loved to eat…Dodo bird eggs. In the cartoon the egg was as big as Fred, and his wife Wilma always needed help carrying it.

The Flinstones
The Flintstones and Dodo egg (c) Hanna-Barbera

Because the name is kind of funny, you might think a Dodo bird is a figment of the imagination of the creators of The Flintstones. But in fact, Dodo Birds were a real animal found only here on the island of Mauritius where I am currently living for six weeks. Not only real, but prolific and healthy until the arrival of man to this island in the 1600’s. That’s when Dodo’s and other animals of Mauritius became extinct.

A Remote Island

The Dodo story is a sad one, and also one we should learn something from. But Dodos are not the only animal that became extinct after man arrived on this remote island in the Indian Ocean. The Giant Domed Tortoises and the Mauritius Saddle Back Tortoises were eaten as protein by sailors until they too became extinct. The Mauritius Giant Skink, the Mauritius Flying Fox and the Mauritius Owl are no longer in existence, as well as another dozen animals and birds. The Pink Pigeon was brought to the brink of extinction but now, thanks to preservation efforts, it is beginning to return.

Ile aux Aigrettes
Endangered Mauritius Fody

A Little History

From 1502 to 1968 the tiny island of Mauritius bounced around between Arab and European sailors and eventually colonists including the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. When the Dutch first arrived in 1598 the island was uninhabited by humans, but was home to a variety of animals only found on the island…similar to its much larger neighbor Madagascar.

Pink Pigeon
Nearly extinct Pink Pigeon

Man’s arrival brought hungry sailors and slaves as well as rats, monkeys and pigs. These introductions to the uninhabited island caused Dodo eggs to be eaten from the nest and the large (3 feet tall and 45 pounds), flightless bird (a member of the pigeon family) to easily be captured and consumed.

Artists Rendition Dodo Bird

Same is true for the two species of giant tortoise. At the time there were so many of these giant tortoises it is said a man could walk along the beach across the backs of the tortoises for miles (by the way, they CAN feel that, their shells are very sensitive). The tortoise eggs also were eaten by both man and introduced animals, and the protein provided by the giant beasts was much preferred in taste to the Dodo.

Giant Tortoise
Seychelle Tortoise breeding on Mauritius

Quickly Extinct

By 1681 the last Dodo was killed. Less than a century to eliminate an entire species. Sad.

Today no species resembling the Dodo is on the island or on the planet. A species of giant tortoise that is similar to the Domed Tortoise is found on the Seychelle Island. This tortoise is now being bred on Mauritius. But farewell Dodo.

Today’s Preservation Efforts

Today the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is working to protect and reintroduce flora and fauna to the island in several protected areas both on and off shore. Their mission is;

The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the only non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation and preservation of the nation’s endangered plant and animal species.

Mauritius blue gecko

Their work is both restoring entire eco-systems and sharing restoration knowledge both locally and internationally.

Visitors and locals are able to see first hand the conservation projects being carried out in Mauritius including the offshore islets and Rodrigues. MWF works with local and international partners, with the long-term aim of recreating lost ecosystems by saving some of rarest species from extinction and restoring the native forest. Another important part of the work is to raise awareness about conservation issues through education programs.

Palm Tree
Endangered Bottle Palm

During our visit to Mauritius we enjoyed an amazing guided tour of the off-shore atol of Ile aux Aigrettes, as well as a self-guided tour of Petrin, a birding paradise, within the Black River Gorges National Park.

You don’t need to stay six weeks on this island to understand how unique it is on our planet as home to a diverse collection of plant and wildlife, as well as a migratory stop-over for many species. A visit to Mauritius is recommended, and while you are here be sure to connect with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and support the incredible work they are doing to protect, preserve and educate. Yabbadabbado!

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