4 National Parks in Mauritius - Experience Mauritius' Famed Biodiversity Up Close
One of the most significant assets of any nation is its biodiversity. Flora and fauna of a region are crucial for maintaining the ecological balance, and their conservation is an essential issue that rapid urbanisation over the past few years has forced us to address. Mauritius' one-of-a-kind isolated location in the boundless Indian Ocean led to the proliferation of several endemic plant and animal species. The original natives of Mauritius existed in perfect harmony with nature and all species flourished. However, upon the arrival of foreign explorers and colonisers in the form of the Dutch, the French and the British, these endemic species took a huge hit, and their numbers started deteriorating. Foreign species introduced by the immigrants competed with the native flora and fauna and in several cases, overpowered them leading to their extinction. Meanwhile, Mauritius' rapid urbanisation and expansion of the tourism industry further decimated forests leading to a diminishing green cover.
To address the acute dangers being posed to Mauritian biodiversity, several organisations took up the initiative to restore Mauritius to its former glorious self. Governmental organisations such as the Forestry Service, National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS) and NGOs such as the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT) have devoted several years to this essential cause by practising captive breeding, habitat restoration and the eradication of introduced species.
Three National Parks were proclaimed to preserve the endangered wildlife and plant species on the island. These parks have since the past few decades served as incubators for the critically threatened species, providing them with a natural breeding ground, safe from human exploitation and invasive species. The populations of several species have thus stabilised, and have shown an encouraging growth.
A visit to these biodiversity hotspots is a must for those looking to escape the rush of city life and the crowded tourist spots. Trekking and exploring the wildlife in its natural habitat without cages is a breathtaking experience that all adventure enthusiasts should opt for. Read on to learn more about the three National Parks on the island.
1. Black River Gorges National Park
The hilly South-Western part of Mauritius houses in its stunning landscape the Black River Gorges National Park. Proclaimed on June 15, 1994, this National Park comprises of 67 square kilometres of pristine biodiversity. Be it humid, hilly forests, dry, low-lying forests, or marshy heathlands, this national park has it all. The maintenance and upkeep of this National Park are entrusted to the National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCs).
With more than sixty kilometres of trails, this national park is a trekker's delight. Bird-watchers can also rejoice as some of Mauritius' rarest aerial inhabitants call this park their home. The Mauritius Kestrel, Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Parakeet, Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike, Mauritius Fody, Mauritius Grey White-Eye and Mauritius Bulbul are a handful of the myriad plant species found in these forests. Almost all of Mauritius' remaining rainforests can be found within the domain of this park and this house numerous endemic animal species such as the Mauritian flying fox, the wild boar, macaque monkeys and deer to name a few.
Several research and conservation projects are undertaken by the NPCs and the MWF at the four field stations set up in the park. Ironically, these forests, once the prime hunting grounds for poachers, are now the natural habitat for 300 flowering plants, nine bird species exclusive to Mauritius and more than 4000 giant fruit bats.
A hiking expedition through this National Park will provide you breathtaking views of beautiful gorges, thundering waterfalls, towering mountain ranges and of course, the wildlife mentioned above. If you want to witness the original untampered Mauritius before tourism and urbanisation began their onslaught on nature, this is the closest you can probably get.
Location: B103 - Plaine Champagne Road, Mauritius Timings: Monday to Friday - 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Saturday and Sunday - 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
2. Bras d'Eau National Park
Contrary to the tourist-friendly Black River Gorges National Park, this Park in the North East of Mauritius, near Porte Lafayette is more of a quiet, rarely visited wilderness. Out of the five square kilometres that make up this park, almost a fifth is occupied by a large water body by the name of Mare Sarcelle. Mare Sarcelle is the abode of several indigenous ferns, orchids, mangrove swamps and a plethora of birds. This is the region where the vast majority of treks and bird-watching expeditions take place. Bonus fact: The name Bras d'Eau, literally translating to Arm of Water is derived from the elegantly winding water body stretching inland from the sea.
Established in 2011, this park too is maintained by the NPCs and is popular amongst seasoned trekkers for the peace and tranquillity it offers. The park also serves as the site of the Mauritius Radio Telescope, and ruins of sugar mills and lime kilns more than two centuries old.
Exotic tree species such as Mahogany, eucalyptus, Tecoma, monkey puzzle and araucaria are the highlight of this park and a walk through these woods will enable you to attain oneness with nature. These trees serve as the dwelling spots for a wide variety of birds such as the cave swiftlets, the Mauritius grey white-eye birds (Picpic), kestrels, woodpeckers, Major Chateau Vert, cock of the woods and the flycatcher, a critically endangered endemic bird. The five ponds scattered throughout the reserve house freshwater fish of all shapes and sizes.
Tourists who visit the park love the trek due to the convenient and well-bounded walking tracks with indication arrows and plaques informing them about the plant species. The more or less flat trail is four kilometres long and has wooden tables along the way for picnics.
Location: Bras D'Eau, Mauritius Timings: All days - 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
3. Islets National Park
The Islets National Park, Mauritius' third National Park comprises of eight of the forty-nine small islets that surround Mauritius. Ile D'Ambre is the largest islet amongst these. This islet is a popular weekend destination for native Mauritians as well as tourists. Situated in a lagoon off the North-East coast of Mauritius, Ile D'Ambre stretches over 140 hectares of land. The island's coastline is dotted with mangrove trees and rocks instead of sandy beaches, lending it a character, unique amongst all Mauritian islets. Tecoma, palm and pine trees are widespread on the islet with the endemic Grey White Eye bird nesting in their branches. Six magnificent butterfly species are also found on the islet. The flora surrounding the islet forms shady water alleys which are used for kayaking by tourists. A tiny 2-acre island by the name of Ilot Bernache is also a part of Ile D'Ambre and is a popular swimming and relaxation spot.
Crystal clear lagoon water surrounds this islet and countless species of fish, and other aquatic creatures swim through these waters.
Upon undertaking a hiking expedition on this islet, you will find historical ruins dating back to 1750, volcanic craters, and freshwater caves along with jaw-dropping views of the lagoon and island. You would hate yourself for not bringing your camera along on this island. The three miles long trail is short enough to ensure that kids and unseasoned trekkers do not get tired. In fact, the entire islet is small enough to allow you to take the beaten path and explore every nook and cranny without the danger of running into dangerous wildlife.
Location: Ile d'Ambre, Mauritius. Catch a boat at Grand Gaube Timings: Island open for visitors all day. Kayaking and Hiking Trips between 9:00 AM and 3:30 PM.
4. Grande Montagne Nature Reserve
Grande Montagne Nature Reserve is located in the vicinity of the mighty Grande Montagne Mountains in central eastern part of Rodrigues Island and is known for preserving the last remnant of Rodrigues’ endemic forests. Besides this, the
nature reserve also has an education and research centre in the reserves where the remains of extinct species like the Solitaire bird and the Giant Tortoise. It is home to other only remaining endemic species like the Rodrigues fruit bat, Warbler and Fody and the endemic plant species of Rodrigues Aloe.
These National Parks are ecologically fragile, and extensive restoration efforts are underway to preserve the remaining organisms. While visiting, you are requested to respect the sensitivity of the parks and refrain from indulging in activities which may hinder restoration efforts. Keep the parks clean and do not cause trouble to the native wildlife to avoid any mishaps. This will ensure that your trip remains smooth and enriching!