Flora & Fauna
Before the Dutch settled in the 1600s, the only things that lived on Mauritius were native flora (plants) and fauna (animals). Because it is a volcanic island, all the original wildlife on Mauritius had to either fly or swim to get there.
Today, many of the island’s original species have gone extinct, and many died off because of humans. But, early settlers did get to meet some of these original species. There is a Dutch drawing from 1670 of a type of goose called the Mauritian Shelduck. The Shelduck was hunted for food and soon became extinct.
I think these early records are so interesting. I imagined Mauritius covered with plants and animals that I couldn’t find anywhere else in the world. Species like this are called endemic – this means they are only found in one particular place.
When people began settling in Mauritius, so did non-native plants and animals. These plants and animals arrived aboard the ships from Europe. Today, most 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.
Non-native plants and animals can be harmful to the island’s original species, because they can change the habitat. The dodo bird 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. Within 80 years, the dodo disappeared.
Like the famous, flightless 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. The Aldabra almost went extinct because sailors would herd them aboard their ships to serve as fresh food on long voyages.
Seeing these animals has made me more aware of how easily a small population can be wiped out by humans.