Although at first sight the island looked like a dense uniform xerophytic scrub with a few footpaths, it was in fact subtly diverse. The western side seemed more lush, possibly not so windblown. In here, amongst the trees, were a number of wide glades, and huge feeders were slung up between trunks. I saw about a dozen pink pigeons feeding from these -once you were that close you got the idea just how huge these birds were, and the vibrant colorations put all other pigeons to shame.
They had three distinctive plumages, as well as bright pink feet. Their heads were a creamy colour with just a hint of rose; the tail feathers a vibrant orange with again a soupcon of pink running through them, and their wings were a brown colour but with dark pinkish highlights. They happily posed for photographs – as long as they were able to access the feeders. We saw more off in the bushes having a snooze, and occasionally fluttering around. You got the impression they were a bit bored of flying. It was so much effort and they are big birds. You can see how some of these island species might decide it is not worth investing in any more and start to evolve to walk only. Maybe in a few million years MWF can evolve pink pigeons into their dodo cousins.
We walked past a whole host of nursery beds and saw how the MWF are rehabilitating the island’s vegetation. We were shown areas where invasive species had once taken over and it had now been cleared by volunteers allowing natural vegetation to regenerate. This was helping the endemic animal species and as we were walking down the path we heard some chomping in the undergrowth. About four feet in from the path we could just make out the shell of one of the giant tortoise. Nothing was going to disturb him from his feed of the newly restored vegetation and we could never quite get him to turn his head enough to get a good photograph. But you could not mistake the rasping noise.
We finished off our tour at one of the highest points of the island and saw again the extensive views back to Mahebourg, Lion Mountain and further up the east coast. In the gazebo shading us from the sun we saw two of the protected skink species which still reside. Although nowhere near the size of the giant Mauritian skink, the telfair is still quite bulky and we snapped away and listened to more stories from our informative guide.
Ile Aux Aigrettes truly is an ark, and so amazing to see the successes, many hard fought, to repopulate areas with the original animals of Mauritius. The main island still has many threats – it is hard to stop the populations of rats and domestic animals from ransacking the eggs of the birds and reptiles, but at least here, although in some ways a prison, it is also a fortress against invasion of those threats, and a base population can be established. And the rewards are many – so many beautiful, exotic and, of course, unique creatures.
It just was another example of how unique Mauritius is. And while it markets strongly on the beaches, the coral reef, the watersports and high class resorts, I found some of my weekends off where I explored the lesser known byways of the country some of the most refreshing and rewarding myself.