Exciting holiday week with the MWF volunteers
The latest photos are from last week, when it was time to have a holiday week. During the weekends I had spent with the volunteers, their work in all the field stations had often been a topic. So I was curious to see and experience more what they did in the uplands in the Black River Gorges National Park. And then I was invited to stay at Camp and Pigeon Wood, as well as on Ile aux Aigrettes, the second island field station beside Round Island. Camp was awesome! Together with Jen I could explore Bris Fer conservation management area and see what work she does for the pink pigeons. Conservation management areas are a key of Mauritian nature conservation on the mainland. It is only in these small areas, of a few hectares each, that introduced plants are weeded to allow the unique plants of Mauritius to grow there. It is a sort of attempt to save a unique piece of Mauritius. That this is a big goal you see as soon as you explore the national park. In all the areas I had the chance to visit, introduced species such as Guava and Privet were more successful than the native plants and took over more and more. More and more Mauritian plant species are on the brink of extinction, and CMAs are important refuges. It made me feel emotional to stand among huge rainforest trees in Bris Fer CMA and to see native seedlings on the ground. How could it be that this native forest did not stand a chance against the introduced species? Outside the CMA it is a different forest, especially rich in Guava trees, which stand literally one next to the other. In many places this thicket looks unpassable, at least without a machete at hand. It is a tragedy, and one that was caused by humans. It was mainly logging for timber and afterwards clearing the area for agriculture that brought the Mauritian forest to where it is now. From a country that was covered by different forest types, Mauritius has turned to a country dominated by large monocultures, mainly sugar cane and tea. A close look at the national park then reveals that within the remaining area it is introduced nature threatening the original, native nature. The people working for MWF try and save these native plants and animals. In the national park, the focus is on pink pigeons and echo parakeets. Both species were brought from almost being extinct to more or less stable populations through captive breeding and intensive management. Anna and Jannie appreciated my hand when clearing vegetation around trees that were used as nest sites by echo parakeets. Now, that the breeding season is about to start all the potential nest sites need to be prepared. To clean out the nest boxes and natural cavities the echo workers climb the trees with the help of a rope. The boxes are cleaned out and a few wood chips put in, so that they are ready for the echo parakeets. “Echo work” is very physical, that’s what I experienced during the two days with Jannie and Anna. Hike up and down the gorges on very steep trails to get to the nesting trees, clear the vegetation to make the tree easily accessible, climb up and check the nest box, and from time to time just enjoy the breath-taking scenery and maybe spot an echo parakeet – very exciting work!
On Wednesday evening we were invited to another field station for dinner and I stayed overnight. Pigeon Wood is run by Amy and Lachlan. It was a great pleasure to also accompany them on Thursday morning. Lachlan and I also climbed the probably most famous Japanese cedar pine in Mauritius, Annabelle. From the tree top the view over the southern slope is awesome. But more importantly, it was the tree that Gerald Durrell climbed back in the 1970s. And it was apparently up in the tree, when two pink pigeons landed next to him and he decided to try and save the species. I am looking forward to reading his book “Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons” again, now after having had the unique opportunity to be part of the conservation work that he initiated.
After all the pleasant moments with the people up in the national park I was ready on Friday to hit the road and catch a bus to the east coast to visit Ile aux Aigrettes. A great spot in the middle of the turquoise water of the lagoon with Giant Aldabran tortoises and endangered Mauritian plants and animals. It was so completely different from the national park field stations that it was hard to grasp in the first moment. It was comfortably warm and dry, flat, and trees only 3 m high. Here I did not accompany the volunteers so much because the turquoise water was just too tempting for snorkeling and for a swim again and again.
After that absolutely enjoyable holiday week I am now back at work to get all the collected data ready for analysis back home. At the moment it’s still hard to believe that in less than 3 days from now my plane will land in Zurich. I keep my fingers crossed that it’s still a bit of summer there! I am looking forward so much to see my girl-friend and all the others that mean a lot to me, at home. Mauritius and its people have conquered a place in my heart, I felt really welcome here. The feeling is in a way similar to the last few days on Round. But now my thoughts travel even a bit further back to those days in the end of January when I finally decided to do this project. I am happy that Gela encouraged me to go for it when we first discussed about it in the university cafeteria. And now, all these months and many experiences later, ready to fly back home.
SEE YOU SOON!