Natural history of Mauritius

 

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This splendid building houses the Natural History Museum in the centre of Port Louis and, having walked past it at least ten times a week, it was time to pay a visit … although entrance is free. It is open Monday – Friday 0900 -1600 and 0900 – 1200 on Saturday.

This is the oldest museum in Mauritius and contains many animals, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, fish and of course, the world famous dodo of which there are several models in the garden.

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There are several uniquely decorated life-sized dodos outside

The first exhibits portray what Mauritius was like when it was discovered by the Dutch in 1598. There were hardly any predatory mammals, reptiles or even large insects then. The early human inhabitants brought animals to farm and plants to grow food. This upset the natural balance on the island but made it easier for man to live and develop the land which was almost completely covered with trees.

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The island still has so many beautiful and colourful birds.

Deer thrived in the forests and still do. There are over 10,000 in Mauritius now.

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They giant turtle in the background is one of the survivors of man colonising the island

The fruit bat is not so popular as it, well, eats fruit. It’s population has grown too much recently and as a result increased locally produced fruit market prices! It is why the lychee crop was so poor last December and a cull was introduced to reduce the bat population. Not fair on ants as they are the only native mammal of Mauritius. Deer, pigs, rats and other were introduced by humans settling on the island.

Bats famously hang upside down but baby bats feed upwards.

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Bats fear old age and incontinence

The dodo is well known and forever associated with Mauritius but I had not heard of the Great Elephant Bird which had originated in nearby Madagascar. It stood 3 metres high, weighed just under half a metric tonne and it’s egg was bigger than even a dinosaur egg, measuring 30cm wide.

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Equivalent in volume to 180 chicken eggs

The dodo is the national emblem of Mauritius and appears on bank notes, stamps and coins as well as many other items. It was just under a metre tall and weighed 20kg. It was a friendly, flightless bird and had no predators until humans arrived in Mauritius.  Many dodo bones have been discovered  during excavation work in the last 15 years.

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Almost as soon as the dodo was discovered, it became extinct, its eggs eaten by new predators like imported Macaque monkeys and the dodos themselves eaten by hungry sailors. The fact that the female only laid one egg at a time may have been a physically comforting thought for her but this was not good for future survival of the species. The last sighting of a dodo was sadly in 1662.

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The Dodo. Never to be forgotten in Mauritius.

Now, what was under the sea and in the turquoise lagoons? Let’s start with shellfish. This giant clam shell was a whopper.

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Imagine a dish of Spaghetti Vongole with a few of these in it!

Diving would not be so much fun without a few of these cuddly fish swimming around you.

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Have a whale of a time with these lone sharks

I have not seen too many butterflies in Mauritius, the ones that I have found have all been quite small. This display excited me and I was looking forward to photographing some like this on the island until I read the display was of butterflies only found in the Amazon!

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I look forward to snapping the Brilliant Blue and the Bush Brown on my travels now I have found that they are part of the 39 endemic butterflies in Mauritius.

This was a really interesting and unpretentious museum with free entrance to all.

 

http://www.mauritiusmuseums.mu

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