Many Canadians wouldn’t be able to place Mauritius on a map, but most have likely heard of it. Mauritius is well-known for its striking landscapes; bright green vegetation, interspersed with sharp volcanic mountains, ringed by white sand beaches, turquoise water, and a white-foamed reef. Those that haven’t heard of the Mauritian scenery, have surely heard of the most renowned Mauritian species: the ill-fated dodo. This strange, flightless bird that became extinct some three hundred ago, has since become a symbol for species extinction and conservation.
The flora and fauna is what drew me to the volcanic island of Mauritius. For years, I learned both about the conservation successes and losses that took place on Mauritius, and dreamed of one day going to this island steeped in conservation history. As Canada’s 29th New Noah I finally had the chance. I received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn first-hand about the conservation programs on Mauritius by working with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation on Ile aux Aigrettes.
Ile aux Aigrettes is an offshore islet some 800m from the coast of Mauritius. This coralline island was restored to recreate the last remnant of Mauritian dry coastal forest. Like much of Mauritius, the native forest of Ile aux Aigrettes was cleared and the introduction of exotic species of plant and animals devastated the endemic flora and fauna. However, through intensive conservation initiatives by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the island has been restored to mimic what Mauritius would have looked like over 400 years ago and in 1965 was designated a nature reserve.
Given that Ile aux Aigrettes conserves the last remaining fraction of Mauritian dry coastal forest, many of the species of plant and animal are rare and endangered. Species that were no longer on the island, but were still present on the main island of Mauritius, albeit often in very low numbers, were reintroduced during the restoration. The endemic plant community was re-established. Endemic reptiles were reintroduced, such as Telfair’s skinks, Günther’s geckos and ornate day geckos. A species of tortoise from the Seychelles, the Aldabra giant tortoise, was introduced to replace the extinct Mauritian tortoises. Pink pigeons were reintroduced. And lastly, two populations of endemic passerines were re-established.
Most of my work centers on the passerines on the island. I work primarily with two listed species, the endangered Mauritius fody, and the critically endangered Mauritius olive white-eye. The two species were introduced onto the island to create sub-populations after each population declined to fewer than 100 pairs. To ensure the ongoing success of both species on the island they are supplementary fed, regularly monitored and predators and disease are managed. I am extremely fortunate to be involved in all of these aspects of the Ile aux Aigrettes Passerines program and I am genuinely thrilled for the next six months on the island.