Near the small village of St. Aubin in close proximity of the south cost of Mauritius you can find a patch of jungle with a unique diversity of life. La Vanille Nature Park is a beautiful little zoo deep in the south of Mauritius. It has a many different animals and focuses on breeding large reptiles.
The main attractions of the park are its Nile crocodile and Aldabra tortoise breeding programs. These species are watched by the IUCN and classified under the conservation status of least concern (Nilecrocodile) and vulnerable (Aldabra tortoise). Whereas this might not be the most threatened species in the world, La Vanille helps to increase their numbers and get them of the IUCN Red List all together.
The park manages to combine this purpose with the education and entertainment of its visitors. During a walk through maze like jungle trails you will find a lot of different compounds with crocodiles in different ages and sizes. If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, you can see the large reptiles being fed from a rope.
The jewel of the Nature Park is their giant tortoise compound. It is a large area with what I assume to be way over 100 Aldabra tortoises. The best thing about the compound is that it is completely open to visitors. People can stroll around in-between these heavy but surprisingly fast giants.
If you dare, you can even touch the tortoises and find out that they quite like to cuddle! Visitors also have the possibility to buy some salad from the zookeepers for a couple of rupees.But be careful about your finders. They really love that stuff!
The tortoises even actively come to you. They probably come for food, but they will not moan when you pet them instead.
Some individuals can be quite persistent. Twice, one of them "stormed" right at me not showing any intention to stop. Admittedly this can be a bit scary. Their jaws are quite big and strong even though they have no real teeth of course.
But after I heard the story of what my grandma’s Greek tortoise ones did to her toe because it thought it was a strawberry (never use red nail polish near a tortoise), I have my doubts in the tortoise’s ability to distinguish between me and a salad.
Whereas this might only be a personal fear induced by an often recalled story, all visitors automatically have respect for these massive animals.
Generally, the tortoises are very gently, cuddly and always up for a selfie.
From inside the compound you also will be able to see several compounds with hundreds of young tortoises in different ages and sizes.
On top of the reptiles the park also inhabits mammals and fish. There are compounds with Monkeys, Lemur and Java dear, the endangered Rodrigues Fruit Bat as well an aquarium with fish and turtles.
To see the fruit bats from this close is quite a unique experience. You might think that these animals look scary. But ones you get close, their golden fur and their big eyes give them a really cute appearance.
Another highlight of the Park is its restaurant. Here they serve diverse dishes. What makes it special is that they offer crocodile meat on top of the usual. The meat has a unique taste and a texture somewhere between beef and fish.
You also should not miss the Insektarium which has a tremendous collection of butterflies and other insects.
If you visit Mauritius with your family or you are really interested in animals, La Vanille is one of the first addresses to visit. A visit in the park will take about half a day and therefor can be easily combined with other activities in the south.