I will be the first to admit that this blog has been a long time coming. The field expeditions to Ile de la Passe and Gunner’s Quoin, two of Mauritius’ offshore islets, took place over the last few months and in our frenzy of fieldwork, I’ve made the grievous error of not putting my experiences to paper.
Fret no longer, fine fellows! With the arrival of summer here in Mauritius, and an almost oppressive heat, fieldwork has slowed down and I have been able to spend the midday hours hiding from the sun, reflecting on my experiences so far.
When it comes to the offshore islets surrounding Mauritius, Round Island is undoubtedly the star attraction, and for good reason. The massive seabird colonies, unique reptiles, and endemic flora can often lead to Round overshadowing some of the smaller Mauritian islets. However, in my opinion, each of these small islands is equally impressive in their own way, and I’m here to tell you why.
Let’s start with Ile de la Passe, where our team spent a week monitoring the health of a reintroduced population of Bojer’s skinks. Located at the mouth of Grand Port, this islet is a national historic site with a colonial military base dating back to the 17th century. Spending our days catching skinks, and there were plenty of them, amidst the remnants of walls, watchtowers, and cannons was a completely surreal experience and one that I will not soon forget. Despite the fact that humans have used this islet heavily for centuries, reptile populations are thriving and seabirds have returned to the island, proving that even here restoration is still possible.
The powder house on Ile de la Passe dating back to the early 17th century.
The skink catching dream team! Left to Right: Dhanu Munasinghe, Rouben Mootoocurpen, Eric Jolin.
More recently, I was fortunate enough to make the journey to Gunner’s Quoin, where our team cleared trails needed to conduct reptile surveys. Led by a joint effort between National Parks and Conservation Services (NPCS) and Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), this islet has gone through major restoration efforts, with several reptiles endemic to Round Island released here to act as reserve populations.
While I was only able to spend a day on the islet, most of which involved backbreaking work under a sweltering Mauritian sun, I was sure to make the most of it. The moment our tents were set up for the night, we set out to find two of the islands rarest inhabitants, the lesser night gecko and the orange-tailed skink. Within minutes, our headlamps spotted half a dozen lesser night geckos, the smallest Mauritian reptile, with adults that can fit comfortably on the end of your finger. We continued to search for the orange-tailed skink but it wasn’t until we returned to our campsite that we found a single individual nestled amongst our field gear.
Working beneath the summit of Gunner’s Quoin, our team uses machetes to clear the helipad.
This unassuming little skink was only discovered in 1995 on neighbouring Flat Island, but when invasive Indian musk shrews threatened to wipe out the only known population, drastic measures had to be taken. In 2010, 400 of the skinks were translocated to Gunner’s Quoin, with smaller numbers headed to Gabriel Island and Durrell headquarters at Jersey.
By 2011, when a team revisited Flat Island, they found that the introduced shrews had all but wiped out the estimated 25,000 orange-tailed skinks, which had inhabited the island just a few years prior. If it was not for the decisive actions undertaken by Durrell, MWF, and NPCS, it is likely that the orange-tailed skink would have joined the ill-fated dodo in the hall of extinction.
Visiting these smaller islets has provided me with a perspective that I think I would have missed if I had only worked on Round Island. Despite the fact that Round Island has been at the centre of island restoration in this country for decades, these small islands have been somewhat silently fighting conservation issues of their own. While they may be at an earlier stage in their restoration, both Ile de la Passe and Gunner’s Quoin have already proved invaluable in the fight to save Mauritius’ imperilled endemic species.
Until next time!
An adult Lesser Night Gecko.
Sweaty, exhausted, and couldn’t be happier! Canada’s 30th New Noah handling an Orange-tailed Skink.
Canada’s 30th New Noah
Eric grew up in a small town on the shores of Lake Erie, and was fascinated with wildlife from an early age, a passion that he continued through his schooling at the University of Guelph and into his early career as a park naturalist and outreach educator at Killbear Provincial Park. Eric has been an active member of multiple reptile and amphibian recovery teams across Ontario. Most recently, he spent the winter working with the University of Washington on a study examining the interactions between a re-colonizing wolf population and white-tailed deer in Washington.