Discovery to Dutch Colonization
Today, Mauritius is a land of rolling sugarcane fields, a busy port city, and roadways that connect across the country. It’s hard to believe that, just a few hundred years ago, this island was nothing but wildlife and thick forests.
Historians believe that Arab sailors knew of Mauritius as far back as the 10th century, but it didn’t appear on maps until around 1500.
In 1511, Portuguese sailors landed on Mauritius. The island started popping up on Portuguese maps with the name “Cirne,” but the Portuguese never settled in Mauritius. The next visitors came in 1598 – a group of Dutch sailors. They named it Mauritius after Maurice of Nassau, a Dutch prince, and claimed the island as it part of the Netherlands.
When the Dutch began establishing their first settlement in 1638, Mauritius was teeming with native wildlife. The island had grown out of a volcano in the heart of the Indian Ocean creating a place where plants and animals could evolve apart from the rest of the world. This resulted in many unique species.
The dodo was perhaps the strangest of the animals the Dutch came across. The dodo evolved as a flightless bird, since it had no predators on the island.
After weeks, sometimes months, at sea, hungry Dutch sailors sometimes became desperate for fresh meat. They began killing the dodo for food (even though sailors diaries described the bird as not tasting very good).
The Dutch also brought non-native species to the island, like rats, pigs, and monkeys. These animals competed with the dodo for limited food sources. Within 80 years, the dodo became completely extinct.
The Dutch also brought with them other non-native plants, like spices, tobacco, and most importantly, sugarcane. These crops would shape the future of the country and change the landscape of Mauritius forever.
Despite several tries at creating settlements on Mauritius, the Dutch gave up: the island wasn’t providing enough resources for the Netherlands. The settlers departed in 1710, but in this short amount of time, the Dutch left their mark on Mauritius.