Mauritius, as we all know, is an immensely popular holiday destination to let off steam in the calm, breezy beaches under the shade of palm trees and has a spectacular view of the dazzling Indian Ocean in front. An array of top-of-the-line hotels and resorts meeting the comfort needs of the guests in every possible way makes Mauritius a place you want to go over and over again. But that's just the cover of the book. If we dig a little deeper, that's when we discover the low yet exceptionally diverse wildlife, with numerous different species of flora and fauna amidst the long stretches of tropical forests. Along with it, we also find some rare endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world. Being an isolated island from the geographical point of view, Mauritius doesn't have any terrestrial mammals. The only mammals that can be found on the island are bats and other marine mammals. However only one out of two bat species remain in the island - the Black-Spined Flying Fox after the government began killing the Mauritian fruit bats after suffering significant damage on the harvesting of commercial fruits and accusing the bats to be the sole reason behind it. Over the years, many mammals like rats, mongooses, crab-eating macaques and deer are being introduced to the island.
On the records, Mauritius has more than 100 bird species spread out across the tropical rainforests. Although only 7 or 8 epidemic bird species exist now, the most common bird present all over the island is the Mauritian grey white-eye. Due to some serious efforts, species like the Pink Pigeon, the Mauritius Parakeet and the Mauritius Kestrel are safe from being extinct and increasing in population. Along with that, many new bird species have been introduced in Mauritius like the Madagascar Fody, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Zebra Dove.
Moving on from the fauna, the other half of the Mauritian wildlife is balanced perfectly well with more than 700 flowering plant species, nearly half of which are endemic. Palm trees predominantly cover the rainforests, and other parts of the island in a slightly higher altitude are mostly heathlands. The Mauritius ebony, takamaka, manglier rouge, Ox tree are some of the native and endemic plants and trees species. The national flower of Mauritius is 'Boucle d'Oreille' and it is restricted to only one mountain.
Conservation is one of the most important to preserve the wildlife and save the varied species of flora and fauna. The National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCs) and other NGOs like the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) work together in Mauritius towards conserving the wildlife. Here are some of the significant National Parks, Natural Reserves of Mauritius:
1. Black River Gorges National Park
This park of hilly-terrain is located in the south-western part of Mauritius. Spread out over a span of 67.54 square kilometres of forest land the Black River Gorges National Park is home to many endemic species namely the Mauritian flying fox, Mauritius olive white-eye, Mauritius cuckoo shrike, and others. The park has four field stations which are used for conservation projects and research work by the NPCs and the MWF.
2. Bras D'eau National Park
Mauritius' northeast corner near the coast of Poste Lafayette is home to one of the three national parks of the island. This rarely visited park is 497 hectares in size and has been used as plantation grounds for some rare commercial species like the Mahogany, Eucalyptus, Tecoma and Araucaria. Most of the dominant animal species of the park have become extinct, and the other endangered endemic spaces are being preserved.
3. Islets National Park
A group of eight small islands, among which the largest is Ile D'Ambre, make up the Islets National Park. Mauritius has a total of 49 islets; seven of them are Nature Reserves and the other being the National Park. It is located towards the north-eastern coast of Mauritius and other than its opulent natural splendour; it is also a famous weekend destination.
4. Le Pouce Nature Reserve
Visible from the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, Le Pouce is the third highest mountain in the island. It was formed in the basalt lava dome millions of years ago. Plant species like guava and acacia are overgrown here which are not native to the region. Le Pouce Mountain Screwpine is one of the endemic species found here and is sadly on the verge of extinction.
5. Grande Montagne Nature Reserve
It is a natural reserve located in the central eastern part of the Rodrigues Island and covers an area of 20 hectares in the hilly region. The reserve has an information and education centre. The giant tortoise and the remains of the extinct Solitaire can also be found here. The only endemic species that remain in reserve are the Rodrigues fruit bat, Warbier and Fody; the plant species of Rodrigues aloe is also among the only remaining endemic species of this reserve.
6. Anse Quitor Nature Reserve
Established in 1996, this 34-hectare coastal ecosystem is located to the south-western part of the Rodrigues Island. In spite of being close to the sea, the landscape is relatively dry, and most of its vegetation grows on coral soils and limestone. For the time being it is not accessible by the public due to the extensive renovation works going on with the plantation of thousands of endemic species to restore the property to its previous glory. Some rare species like the Zanthoxylum paniculatum and Polyscias Rodriguesiana are found in reserve.
7. Ile Aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve
Located in the southeast coast of Mauritius, Aigrettes is one of the seven islets that are nature reserves. Apart from that, it also serves as a scientific research station. It once used to be the shelter of the extinct bird Dodo and the recently extinct species of Giant Tortoises. It also conserves the 'Mauritius dry coastal forest' that's the world only remaining specimen of this vegetation type. This islet nature reserve also inhibits some rare species of reptiles like Telfair Skink, Day Geckos and a non-endemic Aldabra giant tortoise to replace the extinct Mauritian tortoises. These large tortoises help in the rejuvenation of the forest by eating and spread the plant seeds across the island.
8. Frederica Nature Reserve
Famous as a tourist attraction near the iconic village of Bel Ombre, the Frederica nature reserve has a surface area of 1300 hectares. It is looked after by the MWF along with the Bel Ombre Estate. Apart from enjoying the diverse wildlife of the reserve, this place is also well known among hikers and trekkers, quad biking and mountain biking lovers and for some waterfalls.
9. Casela Nature and Reserve Park
It is reputed as one of the best in the country and is located in the western part of the island. The park is 14 hectares in size and houses a whopping 1500 birds of different species, along with animals like zebras, lions, tigers, monkeys, giant tortoises, etc. the reason for its popularity among tourists is entirely valid. Activities like zip-lining, photo safaris, walking with lions, canyoning and lots more make it a proper adventure getaway destination. On top of that, this nature park has a restaurant in its vicinity serving delicious European, Asian and Mauritian delicacies to the visitors.
10. La Vanille Crocodile Farm
The La Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes is a well-vegetated area located to the south of Mauritius. This 3.5 area of land was the first place in Mauritius where crocodiles were reared for their skin. The farm houses the biggest insectariums in the entire island which has nearly 23000 species of insects. Radiated tortoises, bullfrogs, iguanas, donkeys and bats are some other animals that can found in the farm. There is a gift shop selling souvenirs made from crocodile skin and a restaurant serving the authentic crocodile meat.
The wildlife of Mauritius is just breathtaking. The native and endemic species along are being taken care of properly by the organisations and preventing its extinct. So put on your trekking shoes and wade your way into these national parks and nature reserves and explore the evergreen and authentic flora and fauna of Mauritius!