Timings : Monday to Friday - 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Saturday - 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM Wednesday - Sunday Public Holidays – Closed
Natural History Museum, Mauritius Overview
Like the breathtaking beaches and turquoise blue oceans, the paradise island of Mauritius also has a fascinating history. It’s exciting when you take yourself back to thousands of years and rediscover the origins of this beautiful island nation, and the things you will learn will blow your mind away. All these valuable evidence has been preserved with great care in some grandly designed museums, and the Natural History Museum is one such.
Known to be the oldest museum in Mauritius and enjoying a great location in the less busy part of the city of Port Louis, the Natural History Museum is considered to be somewhat a replica of the Colombo Museum located in Sri Lanka. The building once used to be the premises of the Old Royal College in Port Louis.
The Natural History Museum was designed by a British architect named M. Mann, and it was established under the governance of Sir George Ferguson Bowen in 1842. In the year 2000, it was proclaimed as a National Heritage of Mauritius.
The two naturalists – Louis Bouton and Julien Desjardin – deserve all the credit for initiating the museum with their first collection. It mainly consisted of marine species and bird from the different parts of the Mascarene Islands which were previously displayed in the Desjardins Museum inaugurated in 1842, and it was in 1885 when it was transferred to the Natural History Museum. The prime focus of the museum was to systematically collect study and record the details about flora and fauna found all across Mauritius and the Mascarene islands.
After years of hard work and dedication, the Natural History Museum at the present days boasts the accumulation of 500 years of the rich and diverse flora and fauna of Mauritius under one roof showcased in four galleries. Speaking of figures, the museum houses more than 35000 geological samples and specimens of natural history and nearly 3000 of them are exhibited.
You can find four different galleries inside the Natural History Museum – Fauna Gallery, Marine Life Gallery, Insect, Meteorology and Giant Tortoise Gallery, and last but not the least, Dodo Gallery. So let’s dive in and have an elaborate on them:
Right at the beginning of the tour, you go back to 150 million years as you enter into the Jurassic Period where you get to see the cast fossil of the Archaeopteryx. It is a type of a primitive bird that shares a lot of features common in the birds and dinosaurs of that period such as the long bony tail and small teeth. The British Museum donated this specimen.
The gallery has an extinct and endangered species collection, and here you come across the centrepiece of the museum, the skeleton of the Dodo, which sadly became extinct just after 80 years of its discovery, and that’s when humans realised that their actions could erase an entire species from the face of the Earth. The Mauritian Dutch Pigeon is the museum’s oldest stuffed specimen which was killed in 1826. You can also find the skeleton of the Rodrigues Solitaire in the display along with the incomplete yet unique skeletons of the giant Mauritian Lizard, the Mauritian Red Rail and the Round Island Burrowing Boa.
Furthermore, you can also find a section of stuffed bird specimens in the gallery which displays the different kinds of marsh birds and migrating birds from different parts of the world along with those species that are being introduced in the island and it includes the Indian Myna and the House Sparrow brought from India and the Common Waxbill brought from South Africa.
Marine Life Gallery
Moving on, you head towards the next gallery of the museum which is dedicated to the marine life and it displays a vast range of stuffed fish species, molluscs, crabs and marine mammals like dolphins and whales. In the fish exhibit, you can see sharks, rays, eels along with other commercial and poisonous fishes which are mostly found in the Indian Ocean surrounding Mauritius. Some of the species are even hung from the ceiling in glass cases; don’t mind the lacklustre as the collection is very old and has lost its original glaze due to prolonged exposure.
You also get to see the very rare Acanthocidaris curvastispina, a species of sea urchin, only three of which are known all over the world. In 1874, Sir Arthur Phayre, a British Governor donated the Giant Clamshell to the museum, which was collected in the gulf of Bengal and it is known to be the largest with its weight as heavy as 70 kilograms. The skull of a Sperm Whale and a Beaked Whale is also on the display along with the world record sized mollusc, the Conus aulicus.
Insects, Meteorology and Giant Tortoise Gallery
Further ahead in this gallery, you will find several interesting displays related to meteorology and geology, shrimps, corals, turtles, insects and local woods. The geology exhibits a model of a volcano and the different types of rocks found in Mauritius, which enlightens you about the geological origins of the island and teaches you a lot about its formation. You also get to learn about the formation and distribution of different types of corals namely octacorals, hexacorals and madrepores and also about the various species of butterflies and insects that you can find in Mauritius.
The gallery also has a section where you can see and learn about the giant tortoise which is estimated to be at least 200 years old and it was brought to Mauritius in 1776 from Seychelles.
Trochetia Boutoniana, the national flower of Mauritius is exhibited in the plant section of the gallery.
It is one of most significant highlights of the museum as Dodo is symbolic to Mauritius. The Dodo was a flightless bird and considered to be a part of the pigeon family that was discovered in Mauritius by the Dutch in the 1500s and by the 1600s it was already extinct due to the destruction of their ground nests and immense hunting. The remains of the Dodo in the form of 8000 bones were excavated in 2005 by a dedicated team. Scientists are still trying to research about the sudden extinction of such a massive species and are working towards the origin of this amazing bird species.
So if you visit Mauritius in the near future and you want to know about the rich historical background of this island, then the Natural History Museum is the apt place to be in order to learn about the diverse flora and fauna of the paradise island, its origins, unknown facts and trivia and take yourself through a rejuvenating journey!