The dodo. One comical bird representing one tragic problem: extinction. And in Mauritius, a small island with a big population, many other creatures followed the same fate. But now there’s hope: Ile aux Aigrettes.
On this tiny island just a few minutes off the mainland, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) have worked to create an environmental stronghold, a sanctuary for the near-lost species to thrive. When there were only a handful of wild pink pigeons and Mauritian kestrels left in the world, conservationists took them here to be saved. And now, 30 years later, you can go see the rewards of their efforts.
What you’ll see
Walking around Ile aux Aigrettes, through its tangle of plants and choir of birds, is the closest you’ll get to wild coastal Mauritius. And the guides will do their best to point everything out to you, which could well include:
The pink pigeon. Billed as the highlight of the trip, it’s one of the rarest (and prettiest) pigeons in the world. By 1990 there were only 9 left in the wild. Largely due to the captive breeding program on Ile aux Aigrettes, there are now 500. After a lot of effort from our guide, we spotted a couple for just a split second.
Confession: this photo wasn’t taken at Ile aux Aigrettes – they were too fast for me to capture then. We happened to stumble across them, just a metre or two in front of us, at Vallee de Ferney. It was so casual compared to the lengths we went to spot one at Ile aux Aigrettes that I didn’t realise what it was! This is another great day trip that I’ll be writing up in another post.
The telfair skink, which is extinct on the mainland. Does anyone else think he’s adorable? Okay, maybe it’s just me…
This beautiful guy, the ornate day gecko:
Then you can also find the Olive white eye, the rarest bird in Mauritius, the Mauritian ebony tree, (also very rare). Ever wondered why ebony is so expensive? It takes a year for the tree to grow 1cm! Oh, and huge fruit bats.
There’s so much to see on this little island and we were lucky enough to have seen almost all of these heavyweights, not forgetting Big Daddy – a giant tortoise over 100 years old. He is one cool dude (and you can stroke him, too!). About 20 individuals were brought in from the Seychelles, this species being the last remaining giant tortoise in the Indian Ocean. They have the crucial role of spreading seeds from the plants and trees.
I had a fantastic time wandering around this little paradise. It was refreshing to go somewhere more wild and natural, having spent a lot of time wandering around manicured beaches and resorts. You can’t visit the island independently – you’ve got to take a guided tour (which takes about 2 hours and costs £18 for a non-resident). It’s more than worth it for the price, though – I learnt so much and the money from your ticket contributes towards its upkeep.
What’s really great about the guided tour is the passion for conversation that the guides show. Like a lot of places that arguably have too many tourists (I’m thinking Mediterranean hotspots here), tourists are often just a means to make money for the workers in Mauritius; you get the feeling that they’re just tolerating you for the sake of their wage. And I understand that. But the people at Ile aux Aigrettes are there for the love of it, and I loved it too.
Combine a visit to Ile aux Aigrettes with a few other things such as lunch/dinner in Mahebourg (a short drive north), a visit to Pointe D’Esny (a five minute walk away and one of my favourite beaches in Mauritius) or Blue Bay (a great place for swimming and snorkelling), and you’ve got one kickass day in Mauritius.
The walk isn’t strenuous or difficult, just a bit muddy sometimes. Bring water, some reasonably practical footwear and mosquito repellent (I didn’t and got eaten alive).
The tour leaves from Pointe Jerome, where a boat will take you across the beautiful lagoon to the island. Opposite the embarkation point (where there’s also a carpark) is a little hut where you can book tickets and find out the latest info. You can also check out their website: