"Once destroyed, nature's beauty cannot be repurchased at any price"
- Ansel Adams
Although, in some rare cases, it can be conserved and restored and this is exactly what the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has accomplished on Ile aux Aigrettes. This small island (approx. 27 ha) is situated in the Mahebourg Bay, about 850 metres off the south-east coast of Mauritius. Unlike the mainland which is of volcanic origin, Ile aux Aigrettes is made up of coralline limestone. It is home to the last remnants of dry coastal forest, once found around most of Mauritius.
The islands' history
Originally, Ile aux Aigrettes was covered with a dense jungle, lush plant life and was home to unique animals such as the Dodo or the Broad-pilled parrot. When the Dutch occupied Mauritius around 1598, the island was almost completely cut down and the precious ebony wood was shipped to Europe. A large proportion of indigenous species became extinct, owing to a combination of deforestation, predation by introduced invasive species and hunting as well.
After the deforestation in the 18th century, Ile aux Aigrettes had become a victim of even more destructive events, followed by the French who burned lime, which was exported to Réunion. Afterwards, in the Second World War, the English built a military base on the small island, which remains (e.g. a restored cannon) can still be visited. In the following years, the food plant "Giant Acacia" (Leucaena leucocephala) was planted on Ile aux Aigrettes for sheep farming, which in a short time covered the entire island overgrown and displaced a large part of the original plant world.
In 1965 the island was declared a nature reserve and since then, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation did not spare any efforts to restore and conserve what was once lost. The fulfilling results are the restoration of the indigenous forest and the reintroduction of rare species that had long since disappeared from the island.
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is the only non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation of the endangered endemic plants and animals of Mauritius and yet, the work carried out on this island is one of the world's most successful conservation stories.
MWF official mission objectives:
- To save threatened Mauritian species through the restoration of entire ecosystems.
- To seek new information through field research, data management, captive studies and scientific collaboration for direct application to restoration methods and management.
- To share knowledge gained through restoration programmes with fellow Mauritian and international conservationists.
- To share the joys and benefits of native wilderness and wildlife with the Mauritian people.
- To secure the future of Mauritian species through income generation and sound management of human, fiscal and capital resources.
Discover reintroduced animals
Visit Ile aux Aigrettes
Visitors to the island are encouraged and can take part in one of these tour options:
1. The standard ecotour provides a guided trail around the sites of interest on the island, lasting approx. 1.5 to 2 hours, with a short boat trip to and from the island.
2. A tailor-made tour can be booked in advance to cater for any special interests that you might have, such as photography or birdwatching, for example. Contact MWF to discuss your particular needs and interests.
3. Primary and secondary school pupils can visit the island under their specially designed Learning with Nature programme, click here for more information.
PS: Four months have passed and my internship at Solis Indian Ocean ends today. I want to thank all our readers who followed my articles. It was a big pleasure to contribute to this blog and I'm so grateful for the invaluable experiences I was able to make, everything I learned and for the Mauritian hospitality and friendliness. Mauritius island itself is a paradise full of treasures and wonders and I'll definitely come back one day to continue my explorations...
@ Joachim D.