Besides its holidaying spots like the gorgeous beaches fringed with palm trees, azure water, luxurious resorts and villas, the island of Mauritius has its wildlife. The island was created by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 8-15 million years ago. This has given rise to a paradise island with luxuriantly beautiful flora and fauna, along with spectacular geological features. The wildlife in Mauritius, though not as diverse as other parts of the world, possesses unique and interesting animal species which you might not find elsewhere.
The island was once home to the now extinct Dodo bird. Passing ships used the Mascarene Islands including Mauritius as a ‘stop-over’ to replenish their food stock, and find valuable commodities such as the ebony wood to sell overseas. With the frequent visit of ships to Mauritius, the arrival of European colonists in the 16th century caused much destruction to the then ecosystem. It also consequently introduced foreign species such as rabbits, dogs, goats, deers, and rats to the island’s environment.
The combination of hunting, species introductions, deforestation and farming has dramatically changed the habitats of Mauritius and caused the extinction of species including the Dodo. Today many of the surviving endemic species are seriously threatened with extinction.
Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the leading environmental conservation organization which is responsible for some of the island’s nature reserves such as Ile des Aigrettes, an islet on the Southeast Coast of Mauritius. There are many other reserves such as the Black River Gorges National Park, and Terre Rouge Estuary Bird Sanctuary. In case, you wish to see other animals that are not particularly endemic to Mauritius, then you can visit parks such as the Casela World of Adventures and La Vanille Crocodile Park.
List of endemic Mauritian Wildlife
The Pink Pigeon also known as Pigeon des Mares and Pigeon Rose is an endangered bird species which is unique to Mauritius. It is a distinctive medium sized pigeon with a pale pink body, brown wings, and a broad rusty-brown tail. The Pink Pigeons were once spread everywhere across the island. However, in the 19th century with the arrival of the colonists its population declined drastically. The main factors in the decline of the Pink Pigeon are the destruction of native forest (primarily for sugarcane cultivation), hunting and the introduction of predators such as rats, mongoose, monkeys and feral cats.
Pink Pigeons were also adversely affected by the degradation of the remaining forest by the introduced plant species, primarily the Chinese Guava (Psidium cattleianum) and the Ligustrum Robustum, which invaded and choked the forest, preventing the regeneration of native plants. By the 1950s the numbers had declined to around 50 individuals and by the mid-1970s this had fallen further still to a single population of 20 birds in the upland forest of the Black River Gorges near Bassin Blanc.
Thanks to the initiative of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, an intensive conservation programme of captive breeding was established in 1976, followed by the first releases into the wild in 1987. Today there are 470 wild Pink Pigeons.
The Mauritius Kestrel has an amazing story of survival in Mauritius. Commonly known as “Crécerelle de Maurice” in the island, this incredible raptor bird lives in the wild nature. Measuring a mere 20-26 cm in length, it features black blotching on its otherwise creamy-white chest. Its wings, chestnut in colour with black crescent markings, make the bird appear stunningly imperial when seen in the blue Mauritian sky.
Interestingly this bird species has been living some two million years ago in the Gelasian age. Populations of the Indian Ocean kestrels settled on the then isolated islands of Madagascar, Seychelles, Réunion and Mauritius. It eventually evolved each into their own species, one of which was the Mauritius kestrel.
Unfortunately with the arrival of colonial settlers in Mauritius for the last 400 years, Mauritius has experienced a decline of animal species such as the kestrel, not to mention the extinction of the famous dodo. This was due to the massive deforestation, introduction of foreign animal predators, and the mass killing of animals like the dodo.
Another factor of its decline was the malaria epidemic which ravaged the human population in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the fight to eradicate the disease, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, was used as pesticide. DDT, toxic to a wide range of animals—the Mauritius kestrel being no exception—nearly proved to go extinct. It was noted that in 1974, the Mauritius kestrel had a population of only four individuals in the wild.
The alarming situation prompted intensive conservation efforts which consequently have increased the population to around 400 individuals. Today, the estimate of its population is around 800-1000 individuals.
The gorgeous green Echo Parakeet or Mauritius Parakeet is an endemic parrot, native to Mauritius. It is the sole survivor of six parrot species once found in the Mascarene Islands. Its scientific name is Psittacula echo and is approximately 36cm in length.
It was dangerously declining in 1986 where it was estimated that there were 12-20 birds. However, due to the extensive conservation programmes, the bird was known to be the most intensively managed avian species in the world. The present wild Echo Parakeet population is restricted to an area of less than 40 km2 of remnant native upland forest within the 6,800 hectare Black River Gorges National Park.
In 2007, the bird was downlisted from critically endangered to endangered, on the list of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List).The goal for the near future is to have a stable population of 300 mature birds in the wild. The survival of this species is threatened by the limited availability of natural nest sites, food, competition from birds such as Indian Mynahs & Indian Ringneck Parakeets, predation by introduced mammals including ship rats & Crab-eating Macaques and disease.
Mauritius Flying Fox
The Mauritius Flying Fox or commonly known as the Mauritian Fruit Bat is a large megabat species found in Mauritius. Its scientific name is Pteropus Niger and was once widespread all over the island; however, due to habitat loss, cyclones and illegal sport hunting, there has been a decline in its population.
The Mauritius Flying Fox is the largest endemic mammal in Mauritius as it can reach a wingspan of 80 cm. It has golden fur, small ears, thick dark-brown to black hair. The bats are mostly nocturnal, but occasionally can be seen during the day. Normally, they roost by sunrise. These fruit bats range in size from 40-800 g and occur from sea level to 1500 m above.
The bats hold a crucial part in the Western Indian Island ecosystems. Their role in these ecosystems is as pollinators and seed dispersers.
Mauritius Olive White-Eye
The rarest and smallest songbird in Mauritius, the Mauritius Olive White-Eye is the least known of all Mauritian birds. It is only found in the upland forest of the Black River Gorges National Park, Ile aux Aigrettes and at Macchabee Bel Ombre Biosphere Reserve. It has an olive-green colour with a slight yellow hue on its belly. Its distinct feature is its eyes which are surrounded by a conspicuous white ring.
This bird species is considered as ‘Critically Endangered’ due to the severe decline in population size and distribution over the past 30 years. The current population is estimated at only 100-150 pairs. Its main diet consists of nectar and insects.
Mauritius Ornate Day Gecko
The Mauritius Ornate Day Gecko is a wonderful type of lizard residing in the warm climate of Mauritius and its surrounding islets such as Ile aux Aigrettes, Round Island, and Coin de Mire. This gecko can reach a total length of about 12 cm. It is blessed with strikingly beautiful colours- its back of the neck and head are greyish brown and bordered by white neck stripes whereas the body colour is quite variable and can be bluish green, green with a blue area on the top back, or completely blue. They feed on various insects and other invertebrates and also happen to lick on sweet fruit, pollen and nectar.
Wildlife of the Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius
If you wish to get an insight of the beautiful wildlife of this tropical island then you must visit the nature reserves of the island such as the Black River Gorges National Park. The Black River Gorges National Park is the largest protected native forest in Mauritius. It covers an area of 67.54km2 which includes 2% of the thick native forests and rolling hills of the south-western part of Mauritius. While strolling in the midst of nature, this green area will fill you with a sense of serenity and peace. This nature reserve provides over 50 km of trails where you can trek and explore the rich and diverse flora and fauna of the island.
The enchanting, wild expanse of thick forest is home to over 300 species of flowering plants and nine species of birds unique to Mauritius, including the famous pink pigeon which is staging a very gradual comeback from the brink of extinction. Some endangered species include the Mauritius kestrel, the echo parakeet, the pink pigeon, Mauritian flying fox, Mauritius bulbul, and Mauritius olive white-eye. You might also find the introduced wild boar, macaque monkeys, and deers wandering in the wild nature. As you keep exploring you will find spellbinding waterfalls, pristine rivers, picnic areas, wide canyons and dramatic mountain ranges, which create panoramic views altogether. You can drive or take a bus through the park and stop to contemplate great views along the way but the best way to see the park is on foot. There is a network of hiking trails and reliable maps are also available at the information centres before setting off. You can even hire a guide, if needed, at the visitors centre.