Flora & Fauna
Before Arab sailors discovered the island in the 10th century, Mauritius remained completely untouched by human beings. Its only inhabitants were the native flora (plants) and fauna (animals). Because it is an oceanic island, formed through volcanic eruptions, Mauritius sits far from other land masses. This means all wildlife in Mauritius had to either fly or swim here to live on the island.
Today, many of the island’s original species have gone extinct, some as a result of humans. But, there is evidence that early settlers did indeed get to meet some of these original species. A Dutch drawing from 1670 shows the Mauritian Shelduck, a type of goose that lived on Mauritius. I found these early records so mysterious and intriguing! I imagined plants and animals that I couldn’t find anywhere else in the world. Species like this are called endemic, which means they are unique to their territory – or country.
When humans began settling in Mauritius, so did other non-native plants and animals. They arrived, sometimes by accident, aboard the colonists’ ships. Today, the majority of the species found on the island arrived with different groups of settlers. Sugarcane is a great example of an imported species. The Dutch introduced it to the island in the 17th century.
While some non-native plants and animals can survive in the Mauritian climate, they can be harmful to the island’s indigenous and endemic species. Some foreign species can change the habitat permanently. For example, the dodo went extinct after Dutch settlers brought rats, pigs, and monkeys to the island. These non-native species competed with the dodo for food and ate its eggs from the low-lying nests. Within 80 years, the dodo disappeared.
Like the dodo, all but one species of giant tortoise have also gone extinct. The Aldabra tortoise originally came from the Seychelles. These giant sea creatures were once used as a food source, and the Aldabra almost went extinct because sailors would herd them aboard their ships, sometimes by the hundreds, to serve as fresh food on long voyages.
Today, in Mauritius, you can still find species you won’t find anywhere else in the world – like the bright green Mauritius Parakeet. Seeing these animals has made me more aware of how easily a small population can be wiped out by humans.