The Other Mauritius – Night time visitors

The house, despite being in a gated community, had not been totally secure.  A few weeks before I arrived, Mike had been alone in the house, asleep in his en suite room but he was awoken by noises below.  He went down the stairs in his underpants to be confronted by a small Mauritian man trying to burgle the house.  He had broken in through a window at the back of the lounge; behind the house was a high wall with barbed wire that separated the estate from a public footpath to the beach.  Mike pounced on the guy and pinned him down while shouting out for help.  Mike had had to negotiate with the landlord to improve the property’s security, so by the time I had arrived there were metal bars on all the windows, and the front door, which was a sliding French window, was added to by a heavy duty metal grill.

The experience had also made Mike very jumpy; he was often carrying round lots of money for the project, including our subsistence payments, and he did not want that to go missing.  He invested in a safe in the office to help out, but he still insisted we kept all our personal belongings upstairs when we went to bed.  Most of all, he was sensitive to any noise at night. One evening we were outside having a beer or two, and he heard a scuffling in the nearby bushes.  He jumped up only to find the most curious creature on the lawn; ostensibly a hedgehog, but no hedgehogs live in this part of the world.  It was a mass of brown spiny hairs; it had a small round face with a long twitching snout…. all the features which you would certainly expect from a hedgehog but in fact it was a species of tenrec.  Tenrec’s occur in many countries but are most often associated with Madagascar; one of those magical islands where evolution has experimented in a multitude of ways that are divergent from the global experiences.  The Mascarenes, including Mauritius, are part of this environment, although it is a matter of dispute whether tenrecs came to Mauritius  as stowaways on ships or were artificially introduced.  But there this creature was, filling exactly the same niche as a European Hedgehog.  Indeed it has been commonly called the Greater Hedgehog Tenrec.  It is an example of convergent evolution.  Two completely different strands of the animal evolutionary tree continue by natural selection to make adjustments to their features and habits to suit an environmental niche, and sometimes they come up with the same answers.  So a tenrec eats insects and molluscs so needs a nice snout to burrow under the leaves, with dextrous hands and claws, and has developed a way of protecting itself from snakes and birds by developing spines on its back.  It even hunches up in a semi ball almost as well as its European doppelganger.

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